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.

 

sidewayz

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Sidewayz is a 98-minute music set I streamed in May 2017. You can download it free of charge as an mp3 file from:

https://app.box.com/s/e4g1r9j42cza5xua5z7ebmmi711p55ij

The set list is available as a text file.

PBN SET 10: Sidewayz
May 2017

Soundgarden – Boot Camp
Danzig – Trouble (Elvis Presley)
Paul Wall – Sittin’ Sidewayz
Chingy – Right Thurr
Eric B and Rakim – Don’t Sweat The Technique
Control Machete – Comprendes Mendes
Snoop Dogg – Gzs and Hustlas

PBN Station ID 4
Pile – Special Snowflakes EP
Jorma Kaukonen – Red River Blues
Wayne Hancock – Tulsa
Doc & Merle Watson/Merle Watson – Coal Miner’s Blues
Dolly Parton – Muleskinner Blues
Hank Williams – The Blues Come Around
Bill Frisell – Blues Dream
Rahsaan Roland Kirk – Blues for Alice [Master Take]
Milt Jackson – Blues at Twilight
Kokolo-Soul Power

PBN Station ID 3
KK & Alisha Chinai – Touch Me (Dhoom 2 Soundtrack)
Daler Mehndi – Tunak Tunak Tun
BunHeaD – Touch Me Crazy
Das Racist – Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell

Never See the Night: a short story

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Never See the Night © 2017 by Matthew Howard. All Rights Reserved.

Description: An interplanetary biologist locks himself in a fortified research lab with an alien octopus, stranding his teammates outside in the path of a ferocious hurricane on a water-covered world. The animal already killed one of them, and the scientist-commandos must get inside to confront it, or die in the storm. But the octopus has plans of its own, because it just discovered a new species, too: humans.

4,400 words. Available in paperback, Kindle, Nook Book, and iBooks. Audiobook on Audible, Amazon, and iTunes.

🐙

NEVER SEE THE NIGHT

 

“We’re trapped on this rock until we can figure out how to get back in there.” Lieutenant Aoto wiped saltwater spray from his faceplate. Waves splashed the rocky plateau from 500 meters below. A single human-made structure populated the planet labeled Gelnikov 14 on official charts—a fortified research lab Aoto and his two corporals could no longer enter.

Aoto’s team was one of many exploring potentially habitable planets in the sector. Hundreds of scientist-commandos traveled in one carrier ship to a given sector, then dispersed into small units to examine as many worlds as possible. If any held special promise, researchers on less-promising worlds combined forces and worked together.

But during preliminary explorations, each team was isolated. Signals took days to travel from planet to planet or back to the main carrier, and then there was travel time to consider.

Braxton smashed his gloved palm against the card reader to the left of the hexagonal door frame. Nothing happened. “How’s he defeating our blasted keys? There’s no point in having a mag-stripe in your glove if the damn thing won’t work!”

Sarafina scowled as Braxton repeated the entry method she had already abandoned. “He’d have to tamper with the code to defeat all the redundancies in the security system. But he’s not that smart.”

Braxton scoffed. “I thought he was a bloody genius.”

“In his field,” said Sarafina. “And his field isn’t hacking encrypted systems.”

“You should know, Sara. Weren’t you his little thing back at the Academy?”

“Ram it, Brax. That was a long time ago.”

“Fine. I’ll get rammed. We’re all dead anyway when the storm hits.”

Aoto frowned inside his helmet. “How long do we have?”

The station sat like a fortress overlooking a kingdom where every horizon was the sea. Two moons hung above it, low and heavy in the sky, their craters visible to the naked eye. They were simply too big for this planet, and the team had calculated their orbits would decay and bring them crashing into the worldwide ocean within a few hundred million years. As the twin moons orbited Gelnikov 14, their competing gravities gave birth to tidal forces that periodically swept the planet with cyclonic winds and waves as big as mountains.

The impregnable research lab could withstand the severe climates of almost any planet. The ship which delivered the team to this oceanic tombstone had bolted the station into the rock with metal rods a meter in diameter and twenty meters deep. That same ship would return one month from its date of departure, after depositing similar stations on other worlds.

Braxton consulted his chart. “We’ve got about thirty minutes. Then hold onto your skivvies, because you, me, and the lovely Corporal Sarafina are all getting blown right into the drink. We’ll be up to our bollocks in brine and done for. You saw the last one.”

The previous hurricane tore every last pebble and mote of dust from the few ragged peaks jutting out of the extra-solar Panthalassa. Nothing survived more than two weeks on those islands—not barnacles, not even bacteria. Only the sea held life. Only the sea, and the station.

“I did see,” said Aoto, “and that’s why we’re getting back in that lab. And if you have any more cheerful descriptions about this team dying, you can ram them. That’s an order.”

“Sir.” Braxton glared, but he shut up.

“As much as I hate to agree,” said Sarafina, “he’s right about the storm. We get in, or else.”

“I wasn’t bloody wrong,” said Braxton.

“Listen, you two.” Aoto frowned. “Hisako’s dead. But we’re still alive. Now quit your pissing contest and think of something!”

The first thing Sarafina thought of was Hisako’s mutilated body lying in a pool of her own blood and half-eaten organs. Then Sarafina thought of the animal that killed her friend, and the man who locked himself inside the station with it.

It was true she had gone to the Academy with Cedric. It was also true he was not smart enough to code the kind of virus he would need to defeat the security system controlling entry to the station. “We don’t have any explosives at all?”

Aoto pulled a standard-issue plasma rifle from its housing on his back. He considered recommending to Central that regulation field gear should include demolition supplies. “Besides our rifles, we’re not geared for anything but a routine reading and instrument calibration. Even if we could blow a hole in the door, we’d destroy the only thing that can keep us alive.”

“If we could tamp the charge, we could minimize the—”

“I have a lovely bedsheet,” Braxton interrupted. “We can tack it up over your huge ramming hole in the door when the hurricane comes to kill us! Sod it!”

Aoto ignored the outburst. “Sara, what could have gotten into him? What can he possibly be thinking?”

“Maybe he isn’t,” she said. “Maybe that animal is thinking for him. Haven’t you noticed how weird he’s been acting around it since we reeled it in?”

“You can’t be serious.”

“Look at the blood trail on the ground! Hisako came from inside the station, already wounded. Look at her! She’s been torn apart by something wild. Not a weapon.” By his silence, Sarafina knew Aoto understood. “Lieutenant, if he’s cracked the security protocol, he’s either the luckiest gambler alive, or he had help. And I sure as hell don’t think either of you is using him to commit suicide.”

Braxton said, “Hisako, maybe?”

“Never,” said Aoto.

“Nah, I guess not.” Braxton shrugged. “She never seemed like the type who would even break the rules, let alone ram her whole crew on a piss-poor planet like this hole.”

“She wouldn’t break the rules,” Aoto agreed, “but she’d damn well be prepared for anything.”

“Anything except getting eaten.”

“You are a pig,” said Sarafina.

“And pigs can’t swim, mate. So unless you’re in the mood for a wee dip—”

Aoto raised his voice. “She would have been prepared. She would have had her own key.”

Sarafina said, “You’re right, Lieutenant. Even her redundancies had redundancies. She always had a back door.”

“We need to find it.” A shadow descended over the faceplate on Aoto’s helmet, blocking his eyes and then his entire face from view. “Fast.”

🐙

Cedric wasn’t thinking about Hisako’s corpse. He had liked her. It wasn’t that. She was a fine addition to the crew, and one of the most expert microbiologists he ever served with. She also specialized in coding, and her skills were legendary among even the youngest cadets at the Academy. No one knew more about the station’s computer protocols than she did.

But Cedric’s thoughts simply did not wander near the red pool of blood waiting in his memory. For a dozen minutes, his train of thought ran along tracks which offered no window into the plight of his teammates locked outside, either.

The station, too, would soon be windowless when it sealed against the hurricane. Even the narrow blades of sunlight cutting through transparent, shatterproof slits would soon be blocked out. Every last gasket, vent, and portal would lock down to withstand anything short of a meteoric collision.

Cedric had no doubt the station could survive a cataclysm, even if the entire structure broke off with a chunk of the island still bolted to the bottom. Being tossed about by currents and wind would make him physically ill, but he could strap himself to a soft seat or a mattress and ride it out.

After all, he had the octopus.

🐙

“What do you suppose his end game is?” Braxton held what remained of Hisako, cradling her from behind with his elbows in her armpits. As he held the corpse, Sarafina pulled open straps and fasteners on Hisako’s survival suit.

She yanked off the boots. “Whatever it is, he’s had a quarter hour to think about it. Maybe he’s even sorted what to do when Central comes to retrieve us. Which won’t be for a week until after the storm blows over.”

“I wouldn’t fly a carrier through her either,” said Aoto. “We’re on our own.” Two weeks ago, Aoto photographed a storm with a drone secured to the station’s roof. The drone did not survive.

But its pictures reminded him of Jupiter’s atmosphere, only seen from underneath. Murky, swirling chaos blossomed into hypnotic clouds the size of continents, and dark. They held nothing of the dying sunlight exposing every detail of Hisako’s broken body, the cavity torn from her stomach to her sternum, and what little remained inside it.

Braxton turned his face away. “Aye, the old bird is a sight. This is worse than dissection lab.”

“Maybe it isn’t his end game,” suggested Sarafina. She tugged at a leg of Hisako’s suit. “Can you at least get her glove off, Braxton? For Saturn’s sake. There you go, ‘mate’.”

“I’ve been thinking the same thing,” said Aoto. “If what you say is right, and that animal is somehow controlling him, then it’s not his game at all. It’s that thing’s.”

“Bloody octopus,” said Braxton. “You should have let me scuttle it when we had the chance. I told you it weren’t good for food anyway. That blasted thing’s more toxic than Granny’s meat pie.”

“Neurotoxins!” Aoto clapped his hands together loudly. “That’s it! He’s been poisoned by contact with the animal. This isn’t a plan. This is madness.”

“Crazy or controlled,” said Sarafina, “he’s in the captain’s chair now. And we’d better be prepared to end it.”

“Agreed, Corporal. Sickens me to say it, but—wait! What’s that inside her glove?”

“Look at what your first mate of cheerful imagery turned up.” Braxton pulled a flexible plastic card out of the glove. A meager remnant of sunlight sparkled on its sleek surface. “It’s our backstage pass to the one safe place to bunk on this toilet for the next week.”

Sarafina snatched it from him. “At least you’re good for something.”

“Good work,” said Aoto. “I told you she was always prepared.”

“Sir, what do we do when we get in?”

“We take him down,” said Aoto.

“Aye. And jettison his little buddy right into the squall.”

🐙

The octopus had achieved many things humans knew nothing about these past few hundred million years, including its ascension to the throne of the planet’s apex predator. This had come easily once the species evolved its neural network.

The vaunted intelligence of Earth’s octopuses paled in comparison to this extra-solar beast’s. The brain cells distributed through its body and tentacles had become so sensitive that, like all members of its species, it could read its prey’s mind.

The octopuses learned from every thinking creature they consumed. Though most animals on Gelnikov 14 had not developed any form of culture, their minds held memories of where they had been born, where they fed, where they spawned, and details of environments the octopuses had never explored.

The eight-armed predators absorbed all this knowledge until they possessed an uncanny understanding of their planet’s inhabitants and geography. Though their telepathy was useless over distances larger than a meter beyond their tentacles’ reach, individual octopuses learned on their own, and then shared everything when they met each other.

If researchers such as Lieutenant Aoto’s crew had studied the phenomenon, they would have projected this learning curve into the development of Gelnikov’s first global culture. The dawn of octopus civilization loomed on the watery horizon.

But civilization required abstractions the octopuses’ environment had never pressured them to discover: mathematics, the scientific method, microbiology and medicine, and astronomy. The species possessed the raw intelligence to grasp these concepts, but it had never encountered them.

Until now.

🐙

Cedric’s hands moved so quickly they made a blur above the touchscreen. His fingers pounded the surface like ten jackhammers, tapping so fast they created a constant hum instead of a staccato rhythm. The characters on the screen meant nothing to him. They looked like something Hisako would come up with, but that was all.

The code elicited responses from the machine.

Disable status updates to Central?

Execute.

Disable external access override?

Execute.

Disable external life support systems?

His mind rebelled at touching one more time to execute the command. In a brief window of four seconds, he became aware of his true surroundings. He was not writing poetry at all, as he fervently believed. A shiver ran through his body, and a single bead of sweat fell from the tip of his nose.

He said, “I can’t.” Then he remembered, but his four seconds were up.

The memory sank below the surface of his consciousness. He executed the code, and nothing remained in his mind of the treachery he committed nineteen minutes ago.

While everyone else was suiting up in the other room, Cedric had walked back and asked Hisako to help him with a data file about their specimens, animals they brought up from the sea in traps suspended from cables reaching down the island’s ragged sides.

With a sigh, she followed him out through the station’s main room and then to the doorway leading to the specimen lab.

When the meadow appeared before her, Hisako’s mammalian brain felt disoriented. She looked over her shoulder, expecting to see the room she had just walked through, but the meadow stretched to the horizon in every direction.

She remembered she was late for class. Abandoning her backwards gaze, she took the path that opened at her feet, a walkway through waist-high grasses and wildflowers. They waved back and forth in the gentle afternoon breeze like tentacles floating in sunlit water.

At the end of the path, her podium waited.

The octopus gripped her tightly in its tentacles and gnawed a hole in her skull to expose her brain. Blood sprayed from the wound until the webbing between the tentacles covered it. Suckers probed the mass of electrified fat and sought its knowledge.

The mammal went into shock and was rapidly dying. The octopus set its beak to work on the soft area below Hisako’s ribs and, in seconds, tore a gaping hole in her abdomen. A tentacle slithered into the spurting injury and worked its way up to the mammal’s heart. Hisako. That’s what the mammal called itself. The tentacle wrapped around the heart and squeezed it rhythmically. The blood flow would continue a few moments longer.

“Good morning, cadets.” Hisako tapped the top of her podium. In response, a monitor lit up behind her. Two meters tall and twice as wide, it imposed a glowing white pane on the otherwise uninterrupted meadow. The incongruity of its presence left Hisako untroubled. She only had eyes for her students.

“Good morning, Professor.” Thirty-seven voices answered in unison, and their various pitches harmonized like a sumptuous choir. Each voice belonged to an octopus, and each octopus occupied a desk just like the ones in classrooms at the Academy. Tentacles spilled out of the human-sized seats, and the animals’ sucker-covered skin swirled with royal purple and magenta in ever-shifting patterns. Microscopic nodules in the skin rippled with changing pigments, creating hypnotic patterns like streaks of ivory lightning caught in a kaleidoscope of flesh.

Hisako realized she was staring, and she cleared her throat. “Today’s lesson is critical to the security of our research laboratories.” With a stylus, she wrote security on the podium’s surface. The word appeared on the monitor behind her, in giant red letters. She underlined them.

It did not seem odd to her when each of the thirty-seven students magically produced a similar stylus at the end of a tentacle and wrote the word on its own desktop. She only wished all her classes would be so attentive.

“I’m so happy you’re all here,” she said, and a bright pink blush filled her cheeks. “Today, I will teach you how to write a virus to override the security controls at a research station. I’ll explain as we go. Let’s start with the first line of code.”

Thirty-seven styluses followed hers, copying every character and comment in perfect detail.

Hisako’s heart swelled with pride. It beat stronger than ever before, pumping an erotic warmth into her limbs until her breath became rapid. She wanted nothing more than for all her students to succeed. Hisako loved them, and she couldn’t find the words to express how deeply she loved them—only machine language, and symbols, and everything about software she spent a lifetime learning and inventing.

Then the code was complete, and there was no more Hisako in the classroom or anywhere else.

The octopus located her liver and brought the rich, fatty organ to its mouth. The cephalopod next devoured her heart, savoring the protein and iron in the meat. Then it craved submersion in water again, and the creature slid away from the corpse and back to its open tank, leaving a gelatinous trail of slime and blood behind it.

In a thought that resembled Hisako’s mathematical, analytical attitude, the octopus decided it needed to simplify the variables. Controlling all the large, mammalian brains in the station at once presented an insurmountable challenge. The humans were not so simple as fish and crustaceans. They could resist, and their thoughts demonstrated a glorious complexity unlike anything the octopus had ever encountered, save in another of its kind.

To Cedric, it left the chore of dragging the mutilated body out the front door. At the creature’s command, Cedric shouted, “Something’s wrong with Hisako! Come quickly!”

His three comrades rushed into the room to find Cedric by the open door.

The breach of protocol irked Aoto. “She went out by herself?”

“Something’s got her out there! It’s killing her!” Cedric waved them to the door, and in their rush to see what alarmed him, they ran right past the scarlet smears on the floor.

Aoto saw the body first. The horror drew him to a sudden stop outside the station. “My god,” he shouted. “Hisako!”

Sarafina and Braxton nearly ran him over.

“I’ll get the med kit!” Sarafina spun on her heels to bolt back through the door.

It slammed in her face.

“Ram it!” She pounded her gloved fist on the silent steel barrier. “Cedric! Cedric! Open the bloody door!”

But Cedric did not. He was too busy typing faster than he would have thought humanly possible, if he had any thoughts of his own left inside him.

🐙

“Be ready for anything,” said Sarafina. “Just take him down fast.” She held Hisako’s backup key in her left hand, not close enough to activate the security panel on the door, but close. Her right arm held her plasma rifle so she could fire from the hip. “On three.”

Her teammates stood side-by-side in the door frame. Each held a rifle.

Braxton said, “That’s my sexy Sara, talkin’ all bad-ass.”

“Ram it, Brax. You son of a—”

He raised his left palm to her. “Bitch, I’m not hittin’ on ya.” He tipped his helmet. “I’m just sayin’ good-bye.”

“Shut up and count,” Aoto commanded. “This isn’t a joke.” He nodded to Sarafina. “On three.” He brought the butt of his plasma rifle up to his shoulder. “One.”

“Two,” said Sarafina, in unison with him. She held the keycard centimeters from the panel. “Three!”

The card slammed onto the reader. The door slid open in a flash, and the rifles fired.

Aoto’s shot hit Cedric in the lower arm. The lieutenant advanced, covering Cedric with his rifle. The wound looked awful, but not immediately fatal. Yet Cedric crumpled on the floor and made no sound.

“Get in there and kill it!” Aoto kept his rifle trained on Cedric, who didn’t move a muscle. Blood soaked his once-white lab coat, and its color spread in a pool on the floor.

With Hisako’s key, Sarafina opened the specimen lab’s door. She charged inside, with Braxton close behind her. The muzzle of her rifle found the octopus tank.

Empty.

Both she and Braxton did an immediate about-face, thinking the creature was behind them.

Just above Braxton’s head, eight purple and magenta tentacles crackled with their strange, pigmentary lightning. The foul-tempered scientist never saw them.

Instead, he saw his lieutenant transformed into a terrible creature with countless arms sprouting from him and tearing Braxton’s father to pieces. Braxton screamed and blasted Aoto twice.

The first bolt severed Aoto’s leg at the hip. The second blew a hole in his torso and splattered his lungs and intestines across the far wall.

Braxton whipped around to finish off the monstrosity he saw in place of Sarafina, but she shot him first. The bolt caught him in the shoulder and smacked him to the side. He bounced off the wall and landed face-first in a pile of gore that used to be Aoto.

He rolled onto his back and took aim. Sarafina, from the doorway to the specimen room, pulverized Braxton with half a dozen plasma bursts. His body became a red blur as chunks of bone and gristle pelted the walls.

From its hiding place, the octopus dropped on Sarafina.

The corporal had such lovely hair. She always had, ever since she was a girl. It seemed like a good time to brush her long, beautiful hair. She stood before a full-length mirror, in a cabin where she spent her childhood summers, and the dark wood of the interior matched the mirror’s frame. An indistinct white light shone through a single window, revealing no detail of the landscape beyond.

She removed her helmet and dropped it on the floor. It clunked twice and rolled away lopsidedly. A brush appeared in her hand, and she groomed herself, daydreaming about the kinds of boys she would like to meet someday, and worlds she might like to explore.

The beak that chewed into her skull had evolved to make short work of giant clams, so the mammal’s endoskeleton offered little sport. But as human blood filled its beak, and its skin contacted the brain inside the white, crunchy bone, the octopus found much which delighted it.

Sarafina’s reflection in the mirror turned purple, and bands of magenta played along her arms—all eight of them, each holding a soft, wonderful brush. “I’ll tell you a secret,” she said. “But only because we’re such good friends. Promise not to tell?”

The octopus promised, and Sarafina told it all about the humans who would return to the station after the storm. And the humans on the other carriers, and other stations, on other worlds flung all across the galaxy.

All of them full of food.

Then she died.

🐙

Cedric lived quite a bit longer. When the storm hit, a mere seven minutes after his crew’s ill-fated break-in, Cedric was sawing off his arm just above the elbow. Aoto’s plasma bolt had turned his bone to fragments, like ivory shrapnel embedded in several pounds of ground meat. The limb was beyond saving, and blood loss would surely kill him.

But the octopus wanted him alive.

Cedric sawed through the carnage at the end of his arm while whistling a cheerful melody. He covered the stump with adhesive bandages that bonded to each other chemically, and to his skin. The blood stopped in seconds. Cedric drank two pints of the sugar-water that passed for juice in the station’s larder.

He fell asleep sitting up while the storm sang him a lullaby composed of thunder and torment, a week-long crescendo of elemental assault on his steel fortress. A few days into it, he sawed off his right foot and fed it to the octopus—just like he had the arm.

The rest of the time, Cedric sat at the console, slurping sustenance from shiny bags of liquid food and reading the encyclopedia. The octopus was always near, touching him, draping itself around him like a colorful overcoat, secreting its neurotoxic venom and thinking with his thoughts. Cedric understood most of what he read, skipped the chapters on topology and theoretical physics he couldn’t comprehend, and assimilated new material into what he already knew. It made learning easy for his molluscan master.

The storm exhausted its fury until only a steady drizzle remained. In a moment of clarity, when the creature was soaking in its tank, Cedric remembered the carrier and its scheduled return. Warn them. The thought possessed him with manic urgency. He scrambled for the console, stepping in dried blood and stumbling on the stump where his right foot used to be and, much to his surprise, no longer was.

His face struck the edge of the console and knocked out his two front teeth. He cried and cursed and frantically pulled himself up.

But as the screen glowed at his touch, he resumed whistling his simple melody, and the warning he intended to type with his one remaining hand came out completely wrong.

love is a lie
death is ecstasy

my eternal enemy
your seas have no horizon

your moons are scarred
from burning in the light

the craters of their eyes
will never see the night

Then Cedric’s mother called to him, and he turned to her. She reminded him he needed to dress warmly before going outside.

He did as he was told.

🐙

The drizzle made the steep rock sides of the island slippery, and Cedric had no hope of a graceful descent. Still, he gripped a metal cable in his single hand. Lying on his belly to put no weight on his amputated ankle, he slid over the edge of the plateau.

Hand-over-hand descent would have been possible for someone in peak athletic condition, but this luxury eluded Cedric. His grip slowly slid down the cable, which burned his hand until it blistered. The blisters popped open, and a thick, oozing liquid mixed with his blood to leave a dark red trail.

The octopus rode him the whole way.

It had only days to find others of its kind and gather them to the island, to show them the cages and explain where they led, to a gathering of food that built weapons and spacecraft with access to the entire galaxy, libraries full of knowledge, and technology ripe for the plunder—all operated by animals an octopus could easily control, one at a time.

Metal tore through muscle and tendon until Cedric’s hand failed him, and he could grasp no longer. The scientist fell from the rocky wall, plummeting hundreds of meters through the sullen spray. But he was not afraid of drowning. He was not afraid of anything.

After all, he had the octopus.

THE END

mars 2016 march logo

blues for chris cornell

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Blues for Chris Cornell is an 84-minute music set I streamed in May 2017. You can download it free of charge as an mp3 from:

https://app.box.com/s/lur7k33dedgcm8qymqempil1v963dbgj

The set list is available as a text file.

PBN Set 7: Blues for Chris Cornell
May 2017

Arsenal & John Garcia: Diggin’ a Hole
Hank Williams: There’s No Room in My Heart for the Blues
Styx: Prelude/Suite Madame Blue
Soundgarden: Black Saturday
Tinariwen: Assuf D Alwa
Bireli Lagrene: Un Certain Je Ne Sais Quoi
Wayne Hancock: Railroad Blues
Doc & Merle Watson: Slidin’ Delta
Doc Watson: The Train That Carried My Girl From Town
Debashish Bhattacharya: Amrit Anand
Warhorse: Red Sea
Stonerror: The Wolf
Stonerror: Tomorrow Never Knows (live Beatles cover)
Slo Burn: Prizefighter
Mad City Rockers & John Garcia: Stronger
Narla: Invisible Whole
Breeders: Invisible Man
Henry Rollins: Invisible Woman Blues
Screaming Trees: Invisible Lantern
Soundgarden: Nothing to Say
Soundgarden: Boot Camp
Soundgarden: Fourth of July

 

 

Blackened Sole with Noodles

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BLACKENED SOLE WITH NOODLES

Usually I blacken catfish, but fillet of sole was on sale. Why not try it with that pack of Ramen I picked up on a whim? And of course, toppings.

blackened sole with noodles.jpg

Prep:

I soaked the fillet of sole for about an hour in a marinade of one take-out packet of soy sauce and an equal amount of juice from my jar of pickled jalapeños.

While that sat, I ground a pile of black pepper onto a plate, and added an even bigger pile of chili powder, then stirred that together.

Also, I got my pans ready, because the fish and Ramen will cook super fast, and that’s no time to be fumbling with pans. I put water in a small sauce pan for the noodles, and olive oil in the frying pan for the fish. Don’t skimp on the oil; it keeps the fish from sticking to the pan.

Cooking:

When I was ready for the fish, I got the water boiling, and heated the oil in the frying pan to medium heat. “Blackening” can turn into “burning” very quickly, so it’s best to not be too aggressive with the heat.

I put the fish one piece at a time onto the blackening mixture and gently but thoroughly coated each side, then set the fish in the hot oil. This is no time to dawdle, because fillet of sole is a delicate cut of fish, and it only takes a couple minutes on each side to cook all the way through.

The water was boiling, so I dropped in a whole pack of Ramen. The noodles finished at almost the same time as the fish. I drained most of the water and added ½ to ¾ of the flavor packet. (I wasn’t making broth like the Ramen instructions say to, so adding the whole packet to mostly dry noodles would make them way too salty.) Stirring in the seasoning was easy because the noodles were still wet and steamy.

Serving:

Spread the noodles on the plate, and set the fish on top. I heated nacho cheese sauce and sprinkled on diced jalapeños, with a light drizzle of red hot sauce. (The pile of green stuff in the photo is quinoa pesto I was taste-testing. It’s good on its own but totally wrong for this dish.)

Taste Review:

I wasn’t expecting to be blown away by this inexpensive concoction, but it was all kinds of awesome. More sensitive palates could dial back the saltiness and spiciness by using less of the flavor packet and not garnishing with jalapeños. The Ramen was perfect for this, but you could make a deluxe version with angel hair or fettuccine pasta. This dish could probably feed two if it included a side.

 

holograms

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holograms

we might be tiny flecks
inconsequential shards
but any fragment of us
contains the whole

every atom of our lives
holds a universe

we have always matched
our eyes the same color
our origins identical
we came from nothing

we stole everything
and we refuse to leave

Battered Cod with Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Injuries

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Battered Cod with Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Of all the meals posted this month, this one was the closest to ecstasy, but also the most painful, because I burnt the ever-loving shit out of my finger while making it. It all started when Sprouts put nearly a pound of Alaskan cod on “manager’s special”, and I thought, “Isn’t that what British pubs use for fish and chips?”

battered cod garlic mashed potatoes

Marinating the Fish.

I cut the cod into five pieces and soaked them in the juice of one Persian lime mixed with one take-out packet of soy sauce. I don’t know what’s special about Persian limes other than that they were on sale, and the ones I bought were seedless, which is convenient. The fish marinated in the fridge for about an hour while I worked on everything else.

Potatoes Like a Boss.

The secret to great mashed potatoes is realizing the potatoes are merely the vehicle for flavor. Potatoes are neutral, like blank pages in a book. Your mission is to write a flavor masterpiece on those pages.

I started with roasted garlic butter. The last time I made garlic butter, it didn’t have enough garlic flavor for me. This time, I upped my game. Instead of regular garlic, I roasted two entire bulbs of elephant garlic, which is convenient because of the bigger cloves (which means less peeling).

Roasting garlic is easy: get rid of all the papery skins, chop off the hard tops of each clove, rub the cloves in plenty of olive oil, and bake them at 350F. The bigger cloves in elephant garlic take a little longer to get completely tender compared to the smaller cloves in regular garlic, around 20 minutes.

While the garlic cooked, I melted a stick and a half of unsalted butter in a sauce pan on low heat.

I also chopped a gigantic Russet potato, peeling and all, and boiled it until it was super tender. This potato must have weighed a pound or more; it was a real beast. It ended up in 32 small chunks so it would cook quickly, which took about 20 minutes. When the potato was tender, I drained off the water. Easy stuff.

Right about the same time, the garlic was tender and smelling so good! I removed the hard skins from the cloves and used an immersion blender to puree the garlic and butter together. That’s it. Now you are a garlic butter expert.

I poured off half of this butter mix for later meals, then combined the remains with the potatoes, a generous pour of half-and-half (not milk, you savages—get some cream in the mix!), a splash of sea salt, a sprinkle of dried rosemary, and an “Italian blend” of grated cheeses (parmesan, romano and asiago). I pureed it all with the immersion blender, pouring in some more half-and-half when it seemed too thick for my little blender to handle.

The result was so good that I could have stopped right there and just eaten mashed potatoes for dinner.

The Topping.

It’s not my revolution if I can’t put toppings on it. I didn’t want boring brown gravy (though I do love that), so I made a chopped veggie topping by dicing a Roma tomato and a bit of red onion. I added diced, pickled jalapeños for heat and color, and a generous heap of dried rosemary. I shook it all up in a plastic container so the rosemary would soften a bit in the veggie moisture.

The Fish Fry of Doom.

I made a breading by whisking together flour, chili powder, black pepper, and sea salt. I suspect the “flour” was leftover waffle mix from last year, in an unmarked container. But waffle and pancake mixes are mostly flour anyway, so why not? I worried this would screw things up, but the breading tasted great.

I love coconut oil, but olive oil is better for a fish fry since it has a higher burning point. Once the oil heated up in my frying pan over medium heat, I started coating the fish chunks in the flour/spice mix and placing them in the pan.

Here’s where I fucked up. When setting the fourth chunk of fish in the pan, one of my fingers dipped into the hot oil with it. I suggest you don’t repeat this step, because I’m typing this three hours after I finished my meal, and if I take off my ice pack for more than five seconds, my finger screams like a motherfucker. So, unless you really enjoy physical pain that will give you the vocabulary of Samuel L. Jackson in a Quentin Tarantino movie, I have a suggestion for you. Put the goddamned fish in the motherfucking pan using TONGS!

Chalk this up to lessons learned. It’s difficult to cook fish, photograph it, eat it, and type one-handed. Somehow, I held my ever-so-manly pink Hello Kitty ice pack on my finger, reduced the heat a little on the fish fry, and flipped all the pieces once. They came out perfectly, and I saved three of the five chunks for leftovers.

hello kitty ice pack pink

I can’t tell you how many times this Hello Kitty ice pack has rescued me from total agony.

Serving.

Fish and potatoes on a plate! Drizzle with some of the still-warm garlic butter and the diced veggie topping, and dinner is ready! Ice Pack Optional!

Taste Review.

This may be one of my top ten tastiest meals of all time. The fish turned out great, despite the medical emergency in the middle of frying it. The improvised veggie topping surprised me by being the perfect flavor bridge between the fish and potatoes, without traditional gravy. I’ve made mashed potatoes many times, but it’s been a few years, and this batch made me fall in love with them all over again. I’ll send you a postcard from our honeymoon.

In the spirit of injury-induced profanity which informed this post, my potatoes would like you to know that, bitch, they ballin’!

 

 

seedling

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seedling

the body is soil
the world is dirt

ideas and emotions are seeds
longing to sprout
to break through the surface
unfurling green wings to capture the sun

they might grow unfettered or be consumed

they might live for centuries
or be wrapped in fire
presented as gifts
to the blackening sky

they might become medicine or poison

they might flourish in obscurity
or wither under the attention of millions

they might fill a forest like arboreal soldiers
marching in chaotic ranks to the coast
or stand isolated on the cliff edge
where only pumas sleep in their branches

they might drink their fill or die of thirst

seeds neither know nor care for any of this
gravity tugs their roots
the sun summons leaves
the stalk joins earth to heaven

the seedling wants to grow
yet desires nothing
seeking light
without ever looking

its substance and soul
are one and the same

Sausage with Black Bean and Spinach Salsa

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SAUSAGE WITH BLACK BEAN AND SPINACH SALSA

Sprouts put a package of three bratwurst-sized pork sausage links on sale, so I scooped them up for another creative culinary experiment. Yes, there are sausages hiding in this photo! What can I say? I like toppings.

sausage with black bean spinach salsa.jpg

Prep:

Rinse about ¾ of a bunch of spinach (minus the stems) first and thoroughly drain the water. The water needs time to drain before adding the spinach to the mix later, so you don’t get an explosion of popping grease when water meets hot oil.

Cooking:

I did this all in one frying pan, as usual. I browned the sausages on one side in coconut oil over medium to medium-high heat. After flipping them over and browning the other side, I pulled them out of the pan, sliced them in half lengthwise, and laid them out in the pan so the (former) inside was directly on the pan’s surface. This browned more surface area and sped up the process of cooking the interior.

When the sausages were fully cooked, I pulled them out and put all the spinach in the pan without removing any of the oil or melted sausage fat. Fat equals flavor, and we aren’t counting calories here.

I added two generous scoops each of canned black beans, diced pickled jalapeños, and fire-roasted salsa. Cooking over medium-high heat boiled off some of the liquid to thicken the mix a bit. (I worried this level of heat might harm the flavor, but it didn’t.) After a few minutes of occasional stirring, the spinach was fully sautéed and ready to pour over the sausages.

Serving:

Top with freshly ground black pepper, and it’s good to go!

Taste Review:

Unseasoned pork sausage is a bit bland on its own, but this dish made it part of a flavor explosion! The result reminded me of a rich gumbo, but with a much shorter cooking time. It might be even better if the sausage meat were first removed from the skins and cooked on its own, crumbling it into bits and stirring in the rest of the mix as it cooks. With three sausages and this topping, I could easily feed three people, so I saved 2/3 of this dish for later.

eclipse

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eclipse

when the sun disappears
we dance in its umbra

embracing lightless silence
where mockingbirds dare not fly

darkness belongs to bodies
we plant kisses like seeds

and if one star
carves its absence like a scar

then you and i are healing
in the wound

 

charcoal planets 1 v2

Pastel Planets 1
Buy it as a print or card.

Serrano Pepper Hashbrowns with Cheese

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SERRANO PEPPER HASHBROWNS WITH CHEESE

I never ate Yukon potatoes before, but the little ones at Sprouts looked so cute that I had to take a couple home for something special. Why not a spicy twist on an old breakfast favorite? Why not slather them with so many tasty toppings we can hardly see them?

serrano pepper hashbrowns with cheese.jpg

Prep:

I put two Yukon potatoes in a sauce pan with cold water and a dash of sea salt, then boiled them for no more than five minutes. I ran them under cold tap water to cool them down, and shredded them along with two serrano peppers. I ground some black pepper into the mix and a generous amount of chili powder, then mushed them about into four little patties.

Cooking:

I fried them in a skillet with coconut oil on medium heat. They were browning a little too fast, so I reduced the heat to medium-low and flipped them.

While they cooked, I took the mouth of a small jar and cut out circles from slices of Colby Jack cheese, and set the circles on the patties to melt.

Serving:

I topped them with a drizzle of chipotle ranch dressing and sprinkled on some more chili powder and black pepper. A little scoop of diced, pickled jalapeños in the center completed the presentation.

Taste Review:

Delicious and enjoyably spicy, but they could use a touch of sea salt in the patty mix for flavor. This batch turned out slightly mushier than the crisp perfection I envisioned, so I’d consider frying them in a lot more oil to get that deep-fried vibe. Olive oil might be better than coconut, since it can take a slightly higher heat. Overall, they tasted great, with a little room for improvement in crispiness.

The Martian Top 40

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redkrackle-small-for-blog

Mars Will Send No More is approaching the end of its eighth year, so I’ve been doing maintenance on it, clearing out dead wood and tidying up a bit. With more than 1500 posts, this garden of artistic obsessions requires pruning now and then. But I don’t mind. It’s fun to take a trip down memory lane and re-experience the ramshackle madness and mayhem upon which this blog was founded.

It’s a strange time for comic book blogs. Lloyd Wright at Diversions of the Groovy Kind is celebrating ten years of bronze-age comics blogging with nearly 3000 posts, and he’s musing on how life has changed since he started. He’s returned to writing comic books after stoking the fires of his nostalgia, and he’s a grandfather now, so he plans to post less frequently. Lloyd was a big influence on Mars in its formative days, so visit Diversions to wish him well and check out his latest original creations.

Paul O’Connor at Longbox Graveyard was an early supporter of my blogging endeavors when Mars was getting off the ground, and he’s been through changes, too. His “graveyard” has long since been been pruned and organized into a collection of his bronze-age favorites. He’s survived Californian fires, moved to Canada and returned, and is doubtlessly pondering his next conquest in the wake of leaving Twitter and putting his blog on indefinite hiatus. Drop by the Longbox to explore his entertaining collection of personal musings and generous guest blogs by fellow comic-book fans, and let him know we’d love to see him back.

Here on the distant frontiers of my Martian outpost, I’ve got no plans to abandon these virtual fortifications any time soon. We can always find something to rap about, whether it’s poetry, writing, art, food, or cats. But in honor of Lloyd and Paul and all the comic book bloggers out there, I’ll share an update about the comic book posts that have been the most popular here. Some of them overlap with my twenty-two all-time favorite comics, which you can find on the Archives Page. Some of them are from the earliest days of this blog, and others have recently rocketed to the top.

Here they are, in descending order starting from the currently most-viewed. Thank you for indulging and sharing my obsessions and joys, and stay creative.

Our Top Forty Most-Viewed Comic Book Posts
Magneto Rips out all of Wolverine’s Adamantium!
First Appearance of Spider-man’s Black Costume!
The Death of Barry Allen: Crisis on Infinite Earths 8
EC Comics & Ray Bradbury: There Will Come Soft Rains!
KISS: 1977 Marvel Comics Super Special #1
Dinosaurs of Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson!
Animal Man 5: The Coyote Gospel!
G.I. Joe 21 – The Silent Issue!
Miracleman 15: Nemesis!
Origin of Starfire!
X-Men: Fatal Attractions Wrap Around Covers With Holograms!
The Conception and Birth of Nightcrawler!
Wolverine Aces the Red Skull!
Jack Kirby’s 2001 A Space Odyssey – First Issue!
Complete Jack Kirby Portfolio from 1971!
Wolverine Aces the Hulk!
Origin of Galactus by Jack Kirby
Michael Zulli’s Ninja Turtles!
Black Cat: She’s So Totally Amoral!
Your Guide to Getting Started Selling Comic Books on eBay
All I’ve Got to Worry About Is Shooting My Dinosaur!
Jim Starlin’s Psychic Battle Motif: Thanos vs. Galactus
Jim Lee X-Men Posters 3!
A Look Inside Bruce Jones’ Run on the Incredible Hulk
Jim Lee X-Men Posters 1
Robert Crumb’s Meatball!
Todd McFarlane’s Torment of the Lizard!
Scenes from Jack Kirby’s Black Hole Adaptation!
Do You Want to Know More about the Creepy Guy at the End of Avengers?
Jim Lee X-Men Posters 2!
Anatomy of a Comic Book Bad Girl!
Origins of OMAC: Made of the Future: EC Comics
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Graphic Novel Collection by First
Preeeeeeeesenting… The Women’s Texas Championship!
Rick Griffin: Man from Utopia!
Tygers: Alan Moore’s Legendary Empire of Tears!
The Human Head According to John Buscema!
What If Spider-Man Had Stopped the Burglar?!
Wolverine Gallery 22: Jim Lee
Judge Dredd versus Satanus, the Black Tyrannosaur!

Spicy Lemon Swordfish with Spinach

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SPICY LEMON SWORDFISH WITH SPINACH

Swordfish has a meatier texture than many fishes, more like a steak, but I find the taste a bit bland. Since the manager at Sprouts put out a half-pound chunk of swordfish at a steep discount, I improvised an intensely flavorful marinade to liven things up.

spicy lemon swordfish with spinach.jpg

Marinade:

  • A spoonful of sun-dried tomatoes with a splash of oil from the jar.
  • A spoonful of diced, pickled jalapeños with a splash of liquid from the jar.
  • The juice of one fresh lemon.
  • One take-out packet of soy sauce.

I cut the chunk of swordfish into quarters, like four mini-steaks, and marinated them about 90 minutes in the refrigerator.

Cooking:

All the fish and marinade went into a frying pan on medium-high heat, hot enough to boil the marinade. I ground a generous amount of fresh black pepper onto the fish, flipped it once, and ground more pepper on it.

Then I added a pile of chopped spinach leaves to the pan. I let the spinach and marinade cook about a minute longer after I pulled the fish out, so the liquid reduced and thickened, a bit like a sauce.

Serving:

After scraping all the saucy spinach goodness onto the fish, I sprinkled it with sunflower seeds and even more pepper, and added a dollop of hummus on the side.

Taste Review:

I wanted intense flavor, and I got it! More sensitive palates might prefer less lemon juice. More adventurous palates might desire more jalapeños. A half-pound of swordfish is more filling than I expected, but this was a delicious meal—and a lot cheaper and easier than it looks!

pollen

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pollen

words we create together
for each other
lavender-scented and improvised
bloom like wild roses in a field
untidy and free
scattered in summer sunlight
delicate as lace

our blossoms want to stay
unplucked from our stems
we cover this field
in a scent we share
embracing bees
who drink from us

we hold them close within our petals
for moments we never recapture
but always remember
giving grains of pollen like gifts

paper-thin wings
carry our presents
to distant lovers we never meet
flowers who want to taste and touch us
to grow as we have grown
and fill this place
with creations of their own

simple

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simple

you make it sound so simple

as if we could feast on angels’ corpses
dragging tomorrow over us
like a blanket

as if we could inhale
the first breath of stars
and claim their color as our own

to you it all makes sense

the way a song splashes on stones
bathed in light
they never see

how water holds you aloft
when you dream of drowning
and forgetting

you come here all the time

to this windowless shelter full of holes
this expanse that ceases
at your fingertips

you call it home
and it answers you
in silence and thunder

 

blackout poems from the archives

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blackout poetry -017

While organizing my writing files today, I found my collection of blackout poems from a few years ago. Some were eventually combined or otherwise transformed into poems I published in Anything Sounds Like a Symphony. If you’re looking for off-beat inspiration for your own poetry adventures, give this method a shot. I didn’t invent it. It came to me through a friend of Austin Kleon, who made a name for himself doing this to pages of newspapers and launched a successful series of books including Newspaper Blackout and the New York Times Bestseller Steal Like an Artist.

blackout poetry -006

I didn’t use newspapers, but a stack of National Geographic and old Playboy magazines, and odds and ends like an issue of Seattle’s Stranger.

You can do it with anything! In a writing course I took last January from Joanne Fedler, we did a similar exercise with our own material. We started with free-writing based on our recent dreams, just filling the pages with anything that came to mind, and then we highlighted only the most captivating words or short phrases. We used those as prompts for additional writing, like new starting points, but my highlighted pages resembled a blackout poem. Anyway, here’s the lot of them, from the archives.

 

 

fresh ink

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A couple of new illustrations for The Battle of Vesta 4.

mags 37 - drums - small copy

mags 36 - dances - small copy

history

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history

some objects crave stories
like the restaurant receipt you find
in a used book of poems

or the face carved in palm tree bark
on your walk home
from the bus stop

the lavender tops of a mountain ridge
silhouetted against the soft peach of sunset
demand a history

the truth of their geology moving in slow centuries
collides every night with astronomy
to tell a different tale

embrace the miniscule
the details
in their honest inconsequence

they are undiscovered fragments of giants
waiting for you to weld them with words
unique narrations tying threads together

symbols find meaning
only when married
to other symbols

all mine
lead back
to you

joe’s steampunk electric eel

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Joe Shenton got his Kickstarter funded for his current book project, and on Tuesday I received an awesome ink drawing from him. My modest contribution earned me a steampunk monster drawn in the style that will appear in his book, with the option to choose what the monster would be based on. I requested an electric eel, and Joe delivered!

UPDATE: You can now buy a high-quality print of this piece from Joe’s Etsy Shop!

joe shenton electric eel steampunk art.jpg

dawn

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dawn

at dawn the trees awake
with your name on their lips
unfurling your syllables on every leaf

tributaries of sap
running clearly to the edges
like resonant waves from a bell

a microcellular song
carried to thirsting branches
to reach above the horizon
and reunite this earth with heaven

like the trees you create the air i breathe
and shelter for the birds
flying from my heart
in every direction
seeking home

nestled in your boughs
where last night
stars danced and descended
to converse with shadows
and show them
what gave birth
to light