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

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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.

union

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union

accidents of birth have separated us
but they did not last for long

i loved you before we met
and always after you leave

how could we be apart
when the sunrise bears your signature
birds carve your name below the clouds
and no one can count your colors

you are this morning and the following onslaught
the shade and the respite
the chill
the darkness and the forgetting

you are the memory
the thread that sews me to tomorrow
the fullness and the emptiness
and all that comes between

how could i not love your light
reflecting for the first time
from buildings i never noticed
until this morning

you are the quiet space between passing cars
the silent animation in the palm trees
the slowly vanishing shadows
of the city’s slumber

what would i care for this minute
this millennium
if it did not carry your name
in every crevice and every peak
and all the undiscovered spaces

i am but a speck
a mote of dust
a whisper daring to dream it is alive
and achieving nothing

but in your arms
i am everything

writers

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writers

you drank away
everything i ever owned

it burned a hole inside you
until nothing was left
but unpaid bills

stains on the furniture
pages full of imaginary heroes
you son of a bitch

i threw them out
you writers are all the same
in love with any life but this one

even when you slept beside me
you thought of someone else

 

Manta Force: excerpted from The Battle of Vesta 4

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The following scenes are from Part Three of the next Meteor Mags adventure, The Battle of Vesta 4. They conclude our sneak peek at the as-yet unpublished tale which should be available by the end of the year. 

At this point in the story, most of Mags’ crew has been split up to engage the invaders in different locations. Mags dons the suit Tarzi and Celina gave her for her birthday, a body suit woven from Patches’ indestructible hair. Over it she wears a Faraday suit which protects her from electricity, because she has revealed that she secretly kept another trio of the cybernetic, bio-electric sea creatures we encountered in Red Metal at Dawn and Daughter of Lightning

If you haven’t joined Mags’ merry band of interplanetary outlaws yet, you can pick up the Meteor Mags Omnibus Edition and Rings of Ceres absolutely free as ebooks from Smashwords until the end of July 2018.

***

“Lonso,” Mags shouted into the small black square in her hand. “Lonso! Pick the fuck up!”

Tía, is that you? Kind of busy here.”

“Keep it that way. I can see you from down here on the rim.” When nothing but a crackling static answered her, Mags smacked the phone twice against her palm. “Are you there?”

“Are you trying to bash my eardrums in? Jesus! I hear you fine.”

“Excuse me for living! Lonso, kill as many of these fuckers as you can. But stay the hell away from the main ship in orbit. I’ve been on one before, and they’ve got you outgunned. Understand?”

“Not really. You got some kind of plan?”

Mags considered what she intended, and even the System’s most reckless pirate would have been hard-pressed to consider it much of a plan. “Just take care of the small ships. I’ll handle the—”

An explosion cut her off. Her phone went silent. Fuming at the bright battle above her, she stuffed the square into her bra. She sealed the calico body suit over it and pulled down the Faraday mask. “I guess it’s just you and me now. You ready?”

Her cybernetic mantas circled around her and sliced the Vestan air with their tails. If they felt any emotion, it was too deeply encoded in their circuits to show.

Inside her mesh helmet, Mags sensed their agreement. “We’ll fly over those fuckers on the ground and give them something they’ll never forget. Who wants to give me a lift?”

One manta broke formation and hovered within arm’s reach. Mags beckoned it closer and lower. She crawled up and laid on top of it. Her belly pressed into the manta’s back. Her hands found a firm grip where its wings met its head. “Manta Force, let’s ride.”

The foursome took to the air. The mantas made an inverted V formation. Like an arrow, they flew away from the hangar. The ground dropped away, and the arrow changed course to sweep past the fallen club. Mags scowled, but she spoke not a word.

Alonso’s hastily assembled fighting force had drawn the aerial battle to the opposite side of the crater. Explosions remained visible above the scarred landscape. Fiery trails traced the final descent of friends and foes alike. New craters formed where ships crashed and exploded.

Following Rheasilvia’s curve, the mantas approached the landing zone. There, a dragon squad placed explosives to destroy any ships left on the ground. Mags pulled herself forward into a crouch and prepared to leap. At her mental command, the lead manta swooped toward the dragons.

Mags dropped as silently as a lioness from the sky. Her mantas dived after her. Two insulated heels caught a dragon in the shoulders and smacked him face-first into the dirt. Mags rolled away and sprang to her feet. With a roundhouse kick, she smashed the nearest reptile in the ribs. “Mantas,” she shouted, “fry these motherfuckers!”

A swirling cloud of electric power erupted. Within a diameter of three meters around the pirate, her enemies danced like puppets on a madman’s strings. White tendrils outlined in fiery blue consumed them and charred them to cinders inside their armor.

A savage smile blossomed on the smuggler’s lips. Lightning coursed around her Faraday suit. “I will take you all to hell! Manta Force, let me in!”

The storm ceased. Mags raised her Benelli shotgun to her shoulder. It blasted eight times in half as many seconds. Each slug tore through a different target’s armor. Sprays of reptilian blood splattered across the rugged landscape. “Reloading,” she shouted. “Get back to killing!”

Her mantas responded. But in the smuggler’s frenzy, she had underestimated her opponents. At the edge of the fray, a dragon ran higher up the slope. He leapt from the rocky crater with a shriek of rage. His hands gripped the reptiles’ weapon of choice: the electric rod which had tortured Mags more than two years before.

The implement crackled with power. Its display rivaled Mags’ cybernetic creatures. The monster drove it into a manta from above.

The resulting explosion blasted Mags off her feet. Her head struck stone. White light filled her eyes. Pain stabbed her brain like a red-hot needle. Shards of dragon and manta pelted her like a rain of meat-covered metal. They tore the mesh of her Faraday suit and bruised her skin beneath the protective covering of her calico-hair armor.

In her mind, she felt the two remaining mantas circling her. Mags raised her hand to wipe her hair from her eyes, but the gesture made no difference inside her suits.

She stumbled to her feet. “Bloody bastards!” One hand shoved three-inch slugs into the shotgun.

Above her, two dragons caught onto the idea of the attack and tried to replicate it. Mags blasted one with three rounds to the torso. As his body fell to the ground, the other succeeded. His electric rod pierced a second manta’s metallic skin even as his blood boiled and his organs cooked.

The rod’s electricity exploded the manta into oblivion. Pain disabled Mags. She fell backwards onto the unforgiving surface.

Dozens of remaining dragons descended on her. Before blacking out, she thought: that was a damn good run.

A reptile poised above her. He raised his lance into the sky and prepared to bludgeon her. Even if he could not pierce her armor, the weapon could beat her to a pulp inside it. The dragon unleashed a roar of conquest.

It was cut short by an equally ferocious howl.

From the edge of the battle leapt a demon garbed in black, brown, and white. Patches caught the attacking dragon in the throat. She buried her front claws in the soft tissue exposed between his helmet and chest plate. Impervious hind claws raked his armor until they found the tender meat below and shot blood into the air.

The dragon hit the ground.

Patches stood over Mags’ motionless form. Her tail snapped this way and that like a whip. Static rippled around her bushy coat and made every hair stand on end.

Mags stirred inside her armors. Her world changed from an indistinct blur into a picture of her calico companion facing down her enemies. Mags’ hair and sweat nearly blinded her, but she could make out the reptiles congregating on her position. Before she completed the sentence, “Destroy these bastards,” Patches was airborne and assaulting the next target.

Mags pushed herself to her feet. A fist to her face interrupted her. She sprawled on her back. A reptilian scream filled the atmosphere. Mags raised her shotgun and fired. A slug ripped a hole in the dragon’s center mass and destroyed his lungs. Mags fired again. The attacker fell on her. She shoved the carcass aside.

Blood streamed down her mesh Faraday suit. A dozen reptiles remained. Mags chose the nearest one and pulled the trigger. “Manta! Kill these sons of bitches! All of them!”

The last remaining manta responded to her command. A ball of lightning expanded from its core.

Fearing her torn suit made her vulnerable to the current, Mags scrambled backwards.

Patches remembered fighting an electric cyborg made from Mags’ DNA little more than a month before. She bounded clear of the coruscating energy. It devoured everything in its path.

As the manta circled, a fallen dragon held fast to his electric rod. He thrust it into the air and intercepted the manta. For a third and final time, as the dragon’s comrades roasted alive in their scales and battle gear, a pain like a thousand migraines drove Mags to her knees. She screamed. The manta burst into a shower of brilliant light and sharp fragments. They ripped through Mags’ Faraday suit before striking the asteroid’s surface.

Seven dragons outside the perimeter of destruction gathered their senses and closed in. Patches bolted up one of their legs, seeking the vulnerable meat below the armor. Her claws left gouges in their wake.

As her victim fell, Plutonian appeared, at last catching up to the fleet-footed calico. With a shotgun identical to the one Mags held, he advanced. His slugs ripped open first one dragon’s helmet, then three more. Reptilian brains scattered in chunks across the Vestan tableau. When a dragon stumbled toward him, the DJ emptied his last bullets into it.

His surprise attack left one enemy standing. As the beast descended on him, Mags appeared behind it. She raised the shotgun barrel to its head and squeezed the trigger.

A torrent of blood splashed Plutonian. He did not flinch. He stared death in the eye and did not fear it. Though he would never tell Mags or Patches, he had, for a moment, welcomed it.

Mags pulled back the Faraday helmet and calico-hair face mask. She scooped up Patches. “Hell yeah! I’ll teach a reptile to fuck with my friends!”

Patches batted playfully at her, speaking words only Mags or another cat could understand.

“Does their blood really taste like that? Gross!” Lifting Patches above eye level, Mags spun in a celebratory dance of the violence they inflicted. “Who are the baddest of the bad?!” She kissed Patches on the nose. “That’s right, sweetie. You and me.” With her adrenal glands still working overtime, Mags laughed and cuddled her kitten. “Bring it on, bitches.”

Plutonian stood quietly over the carnage, knee-deep in mangled reptilian bodies. He lowered the shotgun like a flag at half-mast. His shoulders slumped forward, and a dark cloud passed over his face.

Mags stopped rubbing her face against Patches. “What’s wrong?”

Patches answered first.

Mags whispered, “Tesla? Oh, no!”

“Yeah.” Plutonian’s eyes did not meet hers. They fixed on the ground without seeking to understand its rugged formations and lifeless colors.

Mags set Patches down and hugged him. With one hand, Mags held the DJ’s head against her shoulder and let him tremble in her embrace. “We will have a ceremony for him. For everyone we lost tonight. But right now—”

He stepped away and reached into his pocket for more shells. “Right now, we have a whole lot more of these motherfuckers to kill.” He made no effort to dry the tears on his face.

“My thoughts exactly, lover.”

Her choice of words stunned him. She had never addressed him that way before.

“Follow me,” Mags ordered. “We’re going to my hangar.” She stormed off.

He caught up and stopped her with a hand on her arm. “You know what it’s like, Mags?”

She faced him. “What what’s like?”

“It’s like everywhere I look, the solar system is hideous, except when you’re in the picture. Then it’s awesome. All of it.”

“Young man, that might be the nicest compliment I’ve heard since 1938.” She resumed her journey up the ragged Rheasilvian slope. “In case you’re wondering, I do and don’t feel the same way. It’s true, things are pretty fucked up. But I see awesomeness everywhere I spend a second with Celina, and Tarzi, and—”

Patches, having scampered ahead, stopped to look over her shoulder and howl at Mags.

“Baby kitty!” Mags laughed and laughed. “The only reason you weren’t listed first was because things aren’t anywhere near awesome with you.”

Patches twitched her ears and scowled.

“They’re way beyond awesome. Nothing even comes close.”

Patches rubbed a paw over one eye and shook her head in a miniature flurry. She dashed across the rocks faster than the humans could follow, scouting for danger.

Mags raised her eyebrows. “See what I gotta deal with?”

Plutonian could only laugh.

Mags continued her trek. “Plutes, I don’t want to kid you. Patches will outlive me, for sure. That’s sad for her, because she’ll miss me. We talked about it. But it’s the same thing with you and me. Sooner or later, it hurts as much for me to watch you go as it does for you to say good-bye. I just—I don’t know.”

Plutonian labored to keep up with her nimble advance. “What do Celina and Fuzz do about it?”

“They talked, I guess. He knows she’ll outlive him. Assuming natural causes.”

“And?”

“And what? Even before what happened to us in the Dreamtime, she’s known love from everyone she meets. How could she not? Have you met her? You know what she’s like. Tell me you haven’t thought about it.”

“Fine. I thought about it. Celina and I totally hook up and live a life in paradise—absolute paradise—for eternity.”

“Then you know. You can’t meet her and not feel that. She’s like magnetic or something. She never had a problem finding lovers.”

He paused below her on the crater to catch his breath and kick aside a pile of stones. “What are we even talking about, Mags? My dying first? I was on the MFA’s death list before you were, if we’re keeping score.”

She held out her hand from above, and he gripped it. “Right on, Dr. P. You’ve got great taste in music, and you’re aces with a shotgun.” She pulled him up. “What do you say we kill as many fascists as we can before we die, and make this godforsaken System a place where people can rock the fuck out again?”

“If that’s all you wanted, why didn’t you just say so?”

“I’m pretty sure I did.”

Vestan wind carried away his grim chuckle.

***

Inside Mags’ private hangar, Donny and Fuzzlow worked shoulder-to-shoulder to get the Queen Anne combat-worthy.

Fuzzlow asked, “What’s that on your tool cart?”

“Just a little something I’ve been working on in my spare time.” Donny tightened a bolt with his pneumatic wrench. “A plasma cannon.”

Fuzzlow clamped two wires together and soldered them. “You can’t be serious.”

“Plasma’s the wave of the future,” said the former space miner. He set down his tools and leaned his back against the hull of the Queen Anne. “When we were kids, we were all in love with laser guns. Stupid fuckin’ movies.” He wiped sweat from his brow with the back of his hand. “Lasers ain’t shit. Plasma’s where it’s at. If we get it under control, we’ll tear the whole System apart with it.” Donny grabbed a bottle of rum by the handle and chugged four shots’ worth. “Next?”

“Donny, take it easy, man! We need to get this ship ready to fly.”

“Fuck it.” Donny pressed the bottle into his bandmate’s hand. “I don’t want to die sober.”

Fuzzlow considered the dark liquid. “Neither do I, mate.” While Donny laughed, Fuzzlow matched him ounce for ounce.

Donny tilted his head in response to the music playing on the shop’s speakers. “Hey. Is that the Aussie band doing that sunrise song?”

“Yeah,” said Fuzz. “Powderfinger. And it’s Sunsets. Damn, I love this jam.” He rested the rum against his leg, and his eyes watered over. “We should cover this sometime. It always makes me think of C.”

“You and Celina seem pretty tight.”

“You could say that.” Fuzzlow sang along for a moment. His deep bass voice formed a harmony that perfectly complemented the jam. “Donny?”

“Yeah?”

“I love that woman so much it hurts.”

“I hear you, brother. She’s something else. More than a bangin’ bod. She’s got soul like you wouldn’t believe. And she’s great with the kids here.” Donny swiped the rum from his bandmate. “You two ever think of getting married?”

While Donny gulped a few more shots, Fuzzlow said, “I think we already did.”

Donny spat a spray of alcohol. “What?! You didn’t ask me to be your best man?”

“Not like that, dog. Not officially. I just can’t imagine being with anyone else. It’s pretty serious.”

“I know what you mean, bro. I felt that way about my second wife.”

“Where is she now?”

The saxophonist scowled. “Rotting in hell, if there’s any justice.” Donny picked up his wrench and looked at its scratchy silver surface like an old friend he’d almost forgot. “What do you say we fix up this ship, so Mags can ram it right down the lizards’ goddamn throats?”

“Hand me that transistor. I almost got the guidance system done.”

Mags and Plutonian barged in. Patches followed leisurely, marking everything in her path with the scent glands in her cheeks, clawing a corner here and there.

The pirate announced, “I heard that!”

Donny said, “I swear you have the hearing of a cat.”

Fuzzlow set down his soldering iron. “Mags! Is Celina okay?”

“Right as rain, last I saw. She and Tarzi are cocked, locked, and ready to fuck up some reptiles. She has her phone with her, dude.”

“I don’t.”

“Shit. Listen, when the Queen Anne is ready to fly, take Donny and Plutes and go give her crew some back up. I took out the ground forces, thanks to these two. All we have now are those creeps in the tunnels and that floating monstrosity in orbit.”

“She’s ready as she’ll ever be,” said Donny. “Power’s up. Flight systems are go. The landing gear is still fucked, and the hull isn’t 100 percent.” Donny pointed to irreparable sections as he spoke. “Massive body damage all over. Weapons systems are not all online. But you don’t want to engage the bigger ship in a gunfight anyway. To fix everything, we need tools we don’t have here.”

Fuzzlow said, “I don’t even know how you got her home in the shape she was in.”

Patches mewed.

Mags said, “Alcohol helped. Can we get airborne, or what?”

“That she can do,” said Donny.

“Good enough.”

Fuzzlow said, “We’d need to take her to Mars to do it right. Get her into one of their shipyards. I don’t have the faintest idea how we’d make that happen.”

Mags set her hand on his shoulder. “Don’t worry about that. She won’t make it to Mars. Or anywhere else.” Before the full gravity of her statement could sink in, she continued. “But we do have a trip to Mars in our future, because I’ll need a new ride after this caper.”

Plutonian looked concerned. “What do you have planned, Mags?”

“Just what Donny said. Ram this ship right down their goddamn throats. I will bring these reptiles a rain of slaughter like they’ve never seen before. Any of you blokes have a fag for your favorite auntie?”

Donny reached into a drawer in his tool cart and tossed her a pack.

“Thank you, dear. Let’s fire it up.” Mags boarded the ship and ran a systems check. Donny was correct about not everything being online. The control console showed more blinking red lights than steady green. Mags considered the job she had planned. She shook her head and rejoined her friends. “Close enough. Thanks, guys. Did I ever tell you how much I love you?”

Fuzzlow said, “Once. When you were drunk after the gig on Varuna 19.”

“Oh, god,” said Donny. “You were so hammered that night.”

Mags exhaled a plume of smoke. “We played Varuna 19?”

Fuzz opened a cooler and handed her a beer. “It’s one of our most popular bootlegs. But, yeah. You told us you loved us. You even let Donny touch your boobs.”

“What?! I did not!”

“You totally did,” Donny lied.

“You guys are yanking my chain. But you know what? I love you anyway.” She hugged them both. Tears glistened on her cheeks. “I mean that, you scurvy pirates.” Then she pulled Plutonian into her embrace and gave him a kiss that lasted several minutes.

Donny and Fuzzlow exchanged questioning glances. They had never seen their exhibitionistic friend accept any intimate contact. She appeared disinterested in humans in that way.

Donny said, “Damn, dude. Let’s have a beer and watch the fireworks.”

“You can if you want,” said Fuzzlow, “but I’m finding Celina.” He gathered up his things and left the hangar with Donny right behind him.

Plutonian caught up a few minutes later.

cassette

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cassette

neither of us was emotionally stable
when she made me a mix tape
in the mid nineties

we listened to it on the highway
without a reason to be there
except for driving at unreasonable volume

two songs on that cassette stayed with me
we die young by alice in chains
and passive restraints by clutch

as just another grunge member of generation x
i should have heard alice in chains before 1997
but i ignored commercial radio all my adult life

we die young retains their hair metal sensibility
while foreshadowing the heavy suicidal brilliance
of subsequent albums

but the clutch tune eclipsed it
combining a description of cars
with sexual power and surrender

expressing things i felt for her
but she felt for someone else
and i should have known that

early clutch riffs are not difficult
beginners can play them
but their ferocity and massive sound remain unmatched

when we saw clutch in pontiac they were just okay
though other times ive seen them
are among my favorite concerts

in hindsight it says a lot about my twenties
not really formed yet as a person
i was in the process of becoming someone else

it didn’t surprise me when layne staley died
he sang about heroin addiction and death
so it felt more predictable than the weather

what really surprised me
was how clutch recorded album after album
blowing away even that first impetus ep

and if i had to pick one perfect rock album
to listen to for the rest of my life
it would be blast tyrant

maybe everyone has an album like that
one that never grows old
no matter how many years go by

ive become more cynical and set in my ways
but every time i hear those songs
i miss her

 

 

 

resident

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resident

before silence erased everything
you could go to bed
with jet engines ringing in your ears

the roaring railway serenade
cacophony of car crash lullabies
then emptiness

now you lie awake in solitude
unable to imagine what came before

not a drop remains
no sine wave nor vibration
only sickening tranquility

no one arrives to set you on fire
and toss the gas can
on your smoldering corpse

no one even remembers
where you live

Gifts for Mags: excerpted from The Battle of Vesta 4

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This is the third scene from the next Meteor Mags adventure, The Battle of Vesta 4. Mags gets some birthday presents related to ongoing sub-plots, and she takes the stage with her band for the evening’s festivities. Did you read the first and second scene previews?

If you haven’t joined Mags’ merry band of interplanetary outlaws yet, you can pick up the Meteor Mags Omnibus Edition and Rings of Ceres absolutely free as ebooks from Smashwords until the end of July 2018.

***

People flowed into Club Assteroid, busload by busload. The club’s all-female staff greeted them, treated them to drinks, and engaged them in conversation. Soon, an infectious buzz of laughter, tall tales, and clinking glasses filled the main concert hall, mixing with heavy music from the speakers to form a noisy cocoon.

From her private booth above the back wall of the hall, Mags observed the transformation from silence to sonority through an array of bulletproof panes. She dabbed her face with a white handkerchief, then eyed the mix of blood and black ink on its surface. “How’s it look?”

Perfect,” said Jeremy. “Almost done. I just need to fill in a few thorns on the vine.” The young man refilled his tattoo gun. Upon Mags’ face, just under her left eye, a black rose had blossomed at the touch of Jeremy’s needle. To Mags, it symbolized anarchy. But to Jeremy, it embodied a dream come true: the chance to tattoo his rock-and-roll idol, the pirate who had inspired him to cover his skin in black stars.

Beside the luxuriously padded chair where Mags reclined, Tinta kept watch on the delicate procedure. The young woman sipped from a glass of ale. “I still say you’re crazy for getting an identifying mark on your face. But you’re in good hands with Jeremy. I taught him everything I know, and he’s a quick learner.”

Mags raised a hand to signal Jeremy to hold up. “I knew he was special from the moment I met him. His talents were wasted washing dishes in that sleazy joint on Ceres.” Mags declined to reveal that in her first minute with Jeremy, he showered her with the most awkwardly unpolished fan-boy praise—just before he smacked his boss in the face with a mop bucket. Let the boy have his moment, she thought.

Jeremy blushed, but he held the gun steady. “Ready?”

Mags knocked back a double shot of rum and set her glass on the table of ink and instruments beside her. “Ready.”

The door to the lounge slid open with a whoosh. Celina appeared. “Wagtail, are you hiding up here all night? We’ve got guests!” She sauntered over for a peek as Jeremy filled in the final thorns. “Oh, that’s nice. Should I tell Tarzi and Slim they can come in now? They’ve got prezzies for you.”

“Ah, my favorite nephews.” Mags purred. “Bring it. Jeremy, you can finish up while we chat.”

“Just need to put a little Neosporin on it,” Jeremy said, “and some gauze.”

“A bandage? I can’t have a bandage on my face for showtime!”

“Wear it until the show starts, at least.”

Mags pretended to fuss.

Celina poured Jeremy a shot of rum. “Welcome to the crew. We don’t indulge in luxuries like common sense or hygiene.”

“Whatever,” said Mags. “Where are my prezzies?!”

“Oooh,” said Celina. “It’ll be a long night with your attitude. But then, what birthday hasn’t been? I’ll get the boys.”

Jeremy held up a mirror, and Mags’ smirk at Celina’s commentary turned to unrestrained joy. “Yeah!” She scruffed Jeremy’s hair. “You do amazing work!” The black rose glistened under a sheen of anti-bacterial ointment. Shiny, glossy, like wet obsidian. “That’s what I’m talkin’ about!”

Tinta beamed at her apprentice’s work. “Well done, Jeremy.”

His heart could have burst, but it had no time before Tarzi bolted into the room.

Whipping his mohawk to one side, Tarzi shouted, “Happy fuckin’ birthday! Are we ready to rock?!”

Mags brushed back her long white locks, freshly re-colored that morning along with her tail, and held out her hand. “Gimme some love, little man.”

Tarzi slapped his palm into hers and gripped her hand. “Long live the resistance. You better stay seated, Auntie, because this shit is about to rock your world.” From a satchel hanging on his shoulder, he presented her with a thick book wrapped in brown paper. All over the wrapping, he had drawn cat faces in Sharpie marker, and anarchy symbols, and stars. He completed the look with a ribbon and curled the ribbon’s ends with a pair of scissors.

Mags gave him a mock frown. “This is too pretty to tear open.”

“Ha! Rip that bitch apart!”

Mags obliged. Like a cat with a new toy, she shredded the wrapping into a flurry of paper scraps. Then her green eyes fixed on the cover, and her pupils dilated. “No way.”

“I told you I could do it.”

“Darling, you never cease to amaze me.”

“Dr. P helped me bind it. I printed it before I left Earth. Anything I couldn’t make sense of is in the Appendix.”

Mags turned the pages, slowly admiring his attention to detail, his annotations and footnotes. In her hands, she held the translation of the book Patches found on their trip with Donny to feed the baby octopuses on Svoboda 9: a mysterious tome in the dragons’ language, with drawings of unfamiliar technologies, historical records, and insights into their culture. “I hope you made a backup.”

Tarzi laughed. Strands of black hair danced along the side of his head. “Dozens tucked away on drives and darkweb.”

“Good. Do you realize what you’ve done, Nephew?”

“Translated some utterly untranslatable shit for my favorite auntie!”

Mags rose from her seat and gripped him in a bear hug. “You’ve given us our first real insights into these creepy lizards and their technologies.” She patted his back then held him at arm’s length. Her smile shone on him like a spotlight.

He swept his hair back with one hand. “Shit. After figuring out trig, it was nothing. But, hey. Celina and I got you something else.”

Celina chimed in. “Let me do the honors.”

Tarzi pulled a second package from his satchel and gave it to Celina. Unlike the hard, rectangular book, it had soft edges, and the paper was slightly rumpled. It, too, sported a ribbon with curled ends.

On the plain paper, Celina had drawn a single heart and filled it in with a complex tangle of lines and shapes. “It took us months to make this. But feel free to tear it open like a maniac. You won’t hurt it.” She handed it to Mags.

Mags ripped it open with childlike carelessness. “What in the actual hell is this?”

Celina rested a hand on her hip. “Unfold it and see.”

Mags pulled the cloth from its paper enclosure and held it up before her. She let it fall to its full height, as tall as her. A body suit made of variegated thread unfurled. It included a helmet of sorts, more like a face mask, and gloves and socks which fell to the floor at her feet.

She sniffed it. “This smells like Patches.”

“It’s her hair,” said Celina. “Every last inch of it.”

Mags reared back her head with peals of laughter. “It’s hideous! Ahahaha!”

“Yeah,” said Tarzi, “but it’s indestructible.”

That stopped the pirate’s cackling.

“It can’t be burnt,” said Tarzi. “Or cut. Or anything.”

“You put on those jammies,” said Celina, “and you’ll be just as bulletproof as Patches.”

A fierce light shone in Mags’ eyes as the implications dawned on her.

“It might not be much to look at,” Celina continued, “but I bet you’ll find a use for it.”

Mags ran her hands over the fabric. It felt like Patches’ fluff, but tight and focused. “You two have been working on this since September, when you made me that sock!”

“Damn right, Auntie. Celina did most of the work, though. I just brushed Patches a lot.”

Mags shook her head. “She sheds like a boss.”

Tarzi said, “Celina?”

“No, you idiot! Patches!” Mags wrapped her arms around Celina. “You are amazing. This is truly miraculous.”

Celina kissed her on the cheek. With arms tight around the pirate’s waist, she said, “Please promise me you’ll test it before taking it on one of your little adventures.”

“Never make a promise you can’t keep.” The smuggler folded the suit and set it on her chair. “Thank you, dear. Both of you. I don’t even know what to say.”

“Why don’t you say hello to your other favorite nephew? He’s waiting.” Celina left for a moment. She returned escorting the ever-jovial Slim.

“Maggie magpie!” He threw open his arms. “Tell me you’re singing for us tonight!” Slim wore a red velvet shirt with golden buttons and embroidered gold dragons. He matched it with gold-framed glasses with circular red lenses.

“You know it!” Mags squeezed the chubby criminal in her embrace. “We didn’t have much time to rehearse, so we’re doing an epic medley of Deftones, Swans, and a new jam about my octopuses!”

“Oh nice,” said Slim. “Which Deftones?”

Diamond Eyes! With a brutal segue into Black Hole Man.”

“Didn’t they change the name of that one to Glowing Man?”

Tarzi said, “Slim knows his Swans.”

“So,” said Mags, “what did you bring me?”

Slim presented her with a hard, rectangular package like Tarzi’s, but in wrapping paper that shone like gold and caught every sparkle of light in the room. “What we’ve been working on. I finished it.”

Before she tore the expensive paper, Mags said, “Tell me you made a backup.”

“Sometimes I think you’ve forgotten how long you’ve known me.” His smile told her everything. “Just open it.”

Once she did, equation after equation caught her attention. She scanned the pages then silently retook her seat.

No one said a word.

At last, without a hint of humor, Mags said, “You cracked it.”

“Your hint about the Riemann sphere was the breakthrough. Once I got that sorted, everything else just fell into place.”

Mags kept turning pages. “This is pure poetry, Slim. Mathematical genius. I daresay your crowning achievement. And you know what?”

He basked in her praise. “What’s that?”

“By next year, we’ll be filthy rich, and Earth’s multinationals won’t even know what hit them.” She flipped ahead to the last page. “This free-energy system has been my dream for years. Our dream. And you just handed me the key to the whole bloody thing.”

Slim shrugged. “It’s your birthday.”

“Damn right. And I have a show to do. But first, a toast.”

Everyone in the room gathered around so Celina could fill their glasses with black rum.

Mags raised hers, and a circle of glasses hovered around it. “We own the sky,” she declared. “Don’t you ever forget it!”

Freshly inked and bandaged, Mags asked Tarzi to carry her presents. With the beginning of a righteous buzz, she made her way down from her private booth and into the club. As one patron then another caught sight of her, a cheer rippled through the crowd. She raised a fist and shouted, “Hey, fuckers! Glad you could make it!”

Patches appeared at her side, demanding loudly to be carried. Mags scooped up her familiar and made a hammock with her arms. She leisurely greeted each person she encountered. Every table of friends earned a visit from the smuggler. She could not shake hands with her arms full, but she was more than capable of bombarding them with laughter and endless strings of curses.

Mags stopped at a table full of guests indulging in a complex dice game that had gained popularity among miners and criminals in the Belt. At a break in the action, she said, “Let me in on this.”

They called her name in unison and showered her with wishes for a happy birthday.

“Oh, sure,” she said. “Now you notice me. Degenerates.” Supporting Patches with one arm, she pulled a single gold coin from her bra and slapped it on the table.

Dr. Reviss said, “Hard not to notice you in that get-up.” The speaker was unknown to the rest of the gamblers. He had said little since joining the game, and his occupation never came up. “Looking good tonight, Mags. Real good.”

“Thanks to you, doctor.” Mags struck a pose. “If not for your magic lasers, I’d need to cover up all damn night!” Every eye at the table observed her ample form. A sheer white bra and translucent white blouse did more to reveal than conceal. From the waist down, white lace panties and sheer white stockings woven with moons did nothing to hide her vast assortment of black star tattoos. A pair of white leather Doc Martens completed the ensemble. Mags pivoted on their heels and toes as she displayed herself.

Few centimeters of her pale skin went unseen by the gamblers. But what they did not see was any evidence of the pirate’s recent injuries: the bruises she suffered in her first meeting with the space monkeys, the deep lacerations and shredded skin she gained during her liberation of the rail guns on Ceres, and the contusions from her botched spacewalk.

Dr. Reviss eliminated all of them that morning as her birthday present: a two-hour surgery involving his pioneering laser techniques. “It’s the least I could do.” He picked up a glass and a bottle of rum. “Shot?”

Mags swayed a little. “Why not? I haven’t had one in 90 seconds. I’ll give the toast.”

Another gambler said, “Roll the dice!”

Mags scowled. “Look who’s in such a hurry to lose his money. Again.” She snatched up the dice. “Tell you what. Let’s make it one roll. Double fives or nothing.”

The man set a gold coin of his own on the table. “You’re on.”

Mags tossed the dice on the table. They clattered and tumbled to the opposite edge, coming to rest a centimeter away from falling to the floor. “Two fives,” Mags yelled. “Suck it, losers!” She reveled in their looks of disbelief. With a smile, she said, “Just keep it.” Mags left the coins on the table and grabbed the shot glass Reviss filled for her. Raising it above her head, she shouted, “Vivan las anarquistas!

The gamblers echoed her toast and drained their glasses. With an affectionate wink to the doctor, Mags sauntered to the next table. A naked man danced a jig on top of it. Mags cradled Patches with one arm and carried the bottle of rum in the other.

Patches purred through it all, through the discussions of gambling and thievery and murderous conquest that drew Mags to every group of visitors. The cat closed her eyes and enjoyed the company of her best friend.

By the time Mags arrived at the front-row table occupied by her bandmates and Celina, the complete album Triple Distilled by Graham Day and the Gaolers had run its course. The smuggler’s favorite songs by Narla entered the queue. She purred.

Mags set Patches on the table, took a swig from the rapidly depleting rum bottle, and surveyed her crew. Her tail twitched and curled. “Are you sorry sods ready to get this party started?”

Fuzzlow raised his glass of ale. Donny’s and Batalla’s followed. In unison, they shouted, “Psycho for life!”

Mags raised her bottle and stumbled backwards.

Celina said, “You’re bloody pissed already.”

“Strewth. Let’s kill this shit.”

The Psycho 78s clinked their glasses together and emptied them. One by one, they rose from their seats to take the stage.

Mags stepped up to the microphone and slipped on a pair of white-rimmed, heart-shaped sunglasses. Her white locks draped her face. She paused for the usual verbal abuse from the crowd. That night’s deafening barrage brought a smile to her black-painted lips.

She remembered the bandage on her face. Mags tore it off and tossed it aside. “I love you too, you sheep-shagging bastards!” She wrapped her fist around the mic, pulled it free, and kicked the stand aside. “I had a big speech prepared for you, but you went and fucked it up.”

Mags reveled in the boos and catcalls that answered her. “So instead, you ungrateful wankers, all I gotta say is this. One—Two—Three—Four!”

The band launched into the kind of riff that destroys everything in its path. The kind of riff that flattens houses for miles. The kind of riff that reminds you why you were born.

No one remained seated. Tables full of drinks and dice fell to the side.

Mags belted out the first verse to Diamond Eyes. The song’s combination of snarl and sonority perfectly suited her voice and attitude. Three minutes into it, her blouse and bra were nowhere to be found.

Fuzzlow, Donny, and Batalla took the main riff and repeated it like a trio of merciless hammers, pounding it home again and again. Mags prowled the stage. Celina danced on a pole beside the band. If anyone else had a claim to Mags’ title as the solar system’s number one dancer, it was the woman who showed Mags her moves nearly a century before.

The pirate raised the microphone to her lips. As the band brought the riff down to the droning simplicity of the next song, she spoke her mind.

“One hundred and six years.” The Psycho 78s grooved behind her. “That’s enough time to make anyone tired.” She pointed into the audience. “But when I look at you, I remember why I started this shit in the first place. I remember Mama taught me to never quit. Mama taught me we don’t give up until it’s over. And I want you to know that this shit is far from over. It isn’t over until we say it’s over.

“I don’t care what you need to beg, borrow, or steal. There’s a lot of people who would love it if we gave up. Who’d love it if we failed. Who’d love to see us die.

“Just between you and me and everybody else that made it here tonight, I say we give them the finger. I say we give them the shotgun. I say we show them what it means to be free. Live free. Die free. Fly the pirate flag forever. Never let anyone take you away from you! Never let anyone make you feel small. Never, never, never—ahhh, take it, Donny!”

Donny took it. His baritone saxophone solo, run through layers of distortion and reverb, crushed everyone who heard it that night, lifted them up, and slammed them down again.

Mags purred. She soaked up the sonic annihilation. Parts of her only barely covered by fabric tingled with excitement.

But in the sky, forces beyond her control had already begun an end to her celebration.

Kickstart a New Book by Artist Joe Shenton!

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JULY 30 UPDATE: I’m pleased to report this project was fully funded! ~M

Last year, Joe Shenton sent me original artwork for supporting a Kickstarter campaign. I told him I like outer space, pirates, and octopuses, and he created a drawing I absolutely love:

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This year, Joe is working on something a little different: producing an illustrated book with an original story, and adding watercolor paints to his ink drawings.

The Last Forest will be a tale about a boy and his fox caught up in a conflict between nature and industry in a future world Joe’s creating by blending fantasy, steampunk, and science fiction.

Here are a couple images from the project’s Kickstarter page. If you like what you see, head over to Joe’s Last Forest Kickstarter Campaign and show him your support! Get there before July 27, because the campaign ends soon.

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Alonso & Kaufman: excerpt from The Battle of Vesta 4

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This is the first part of the second scene from the next Meteor Mags adventure, The Battle of Vesta 4. Did you read the first scene? Readers of the series have met Alonso, Kaufman, and Patches many times by now, but the characters have 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 Mags’ merry band of interplanetary outlaws yet, you can pick up the Meteor Mags Omnibus Edition and Rings of Ceres absolutely free as ebooks from Smashwords until the end of July 2018.

***

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

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This is the opening scene to the next Meteor Mags adventure, The Battle of Vesta 4. If you haven’t joined Mags’ merry band of interplanetary outlaws yet, you can pick up the Meteor Mags Omnibus Edition and Rings of Ceres absolutely free as ebooks from Smashwords until the end of July 2018.

***

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.

quarterly report

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Gather round, Martians, and put on some striped socks, because these quarterly reports are serious business.

First, I need to thank the readers, friends, and friends of friends who helped me when I was in dire straits this summer. Things were touch-and-go here for a few months, but your generosity helped me weather the storm.

Just when that storm wore itself out, Martian monsoon season hit, and I was forced to give up the top-secret headquarters that has been my pirate-radio broadcast booth for more than eleven years. I don’t like to blog about my personal problems, but just between you and me and the worldwide web, the only way this year could suck any worse is if Dr. Doom decided to become my personal nemesis.

But as I prepare to set up shop in an all-new lair, I’m reminded to always look on the bright side of life. So, what’s been good about the second quarter of 2018?

The writers’ critique group I started back in February 2017 has been doing quite well. I couldn’t be happier with the three people I chose to be assistant organizers, and they have been the only reason I was able to keep the group going while weathering this year’s storms. My goal was to build the group to the point where I didn’t need to personally handle every single thing at every single meeting, and to have a group that was more about “us” than it was about “me”. Mission accomplished.

Has it been trouble free? No. On average, about once every six months, we get someone who only brings negativity, drama, or rudeness to the group. Then I need to step in to bring down the hammer and remove that person. But that’s taught me something interesting, because in the process I learned that one reason some of these groups don’t last long is that the leaders are afraid to be confrontational and stand up to jerks. So, even on those days where I come up short on people skills, not being afraid to stand up to someone disruptive has turned out to be a useful quality. Maybe being a leader includes being a bouncer if needed.

In other news, a few people said nice things about my recent writings as I’ve workshopped them and performed them at various readings. Some people said my favorite three words: “I love Mags”, which at this point in my life means more to me than if someone were to say they love me. I’m way too into my fictional leading lady of the asteroid belt, so it’s nice when people dig her. Then, a few others said they loved my poetry.

I mention it because these things always surprise me. I just write stuff because I need to write it, or because I need to assemble words in a way that makes me happy and satisfied. Back in my 20s, I got used to no one giving much of a damn about my weird artistic hobbies. Now, when something I made connects with people, I’m basically stunned. I think, “Really? You liked it, too?” It’s the kind of thing that makes me think I should get over being a reclusive bachelor and maybe try to reach a wider audience. Then I think, “Yeah, that might be nice. But really, I just want to finish my next story.” The creation is the fun part for me.

Last month I got a request to use a photo from this blog in a magazine that is interviewing one of my art heroes: Steve Rude. Steve, among other notable accomplishments, was the co-creator of Nexus and the penciller on most of the Nexus issues I absolutely love, even if this blog takes its name from an issue he did not draw. The magazine wanted to use one of my photographs of the Nexus flexi-disc, and I basically told them, “Hell yes, you can use it! And HAIL NEXUS!” I look forward to when that interview issue goes into print, so I can share it with you here.

What else has gone right this quarter? Thanks to readers clicking through my affiliate links, I got enough Amazon store credit to buy some toner cartridges, which are so bloody expensive, and that meant I could keep printing copies of stuff to take to workshop so I can improve as a writer. I also got a little store credit at MyComicShop, but I am waiting to redeem it until I get moved into the new Martian HQ. Thank you, readers, in a big way, because when you make purchases after clicking any of the thousands of comic book, books, and music links in this blog, it’s a lot like sending me a tip. It’s a way of saying, “Thank you, Mars Will Send No More!” And it really makes my day.

A few people contacted me this quarter to ask about a rare and out-of-print Ry Cooder disc that was never made available in the States. This doesn’t happen often—maybe once every couple of months, on average. I keep expecting Ry to send me a nasty email saying, “Stop giving out your mp3 rips of my damn disc,” but it hasn’t happened yet. Instead, a few times a year, I get a chance to connect someone with these wonderful music recordings that are simply not available in my country. Ideally, the album would be put back into print or made available digitally. I don’t know why that hasn’t happened yet, because the album is awesome, and more people in my country should have a chance to enjoy it. Those who ask about it are always super nice, too, and they usually send me grateful follow-up emails saying the album is indeed bloody awesome. It makes me happy to know they enjoyed it.

In my secret identity, I’ve helped several people this quarter get their books in print by contributing editing, design, and self-publishing guidance. Those authors have been incredibly generous in referring others to me so I can build new relationships. My marketing budget is virtually zero, and I survive because of word-of-mouth based on the positive experiences authors have with me. If I am struggling through a challenging week, and then I get an email from one of my authors who tells their friend or colleague how much they loved working with me, it brightens my day.

Just between you and me, I’ve had many jobs where every time the phone rang, I would have rather had a root canal than answer that call. But now that I work with authors who are passionate about making books, I look forward to talking with them. I’ve had stressful days this year where it was a glorious relief to just take a break for an hour or two and talk to someone about creating a book! I love it.

I also got accepted into a second Master degree program thanks to my incredible advisor who smoothed out more paperwork snafus than any advisor should need to. After years of suffering through advisors who seemed hell-bent on either giving me no information or actively giving me the wrong information, I’ve now got one who—get this—actually advises me. It’s amazing! So, on the academic and business frontlines, things are looking good for the next two quarters.

If you made it this far into the post, you’ve digested my 1000 words for the day, and I thank you for dropping by, commenting, liking posts, contributing to discussions of comic books and art, clicking through affiliate links, and being among the coolest bunch of readers a guy could ask for. I wish you all the best for the next quarter, and I look forward to sharing it with you.

in search of the monster riff

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These three audio collages are comprised of song samples chopped up, layered, and re-arranged using only the free software Audacity. They were inspired by an old friend who made mix tapes in the 1980s (and more recently, mix CDs) by stringing together only the most awesome few seconds of each of 99 songs.

My versions of that idea are relentless assaults of drum fills, guitar riffs, screams, beats, memorable lines, and other madness arranged in a way that might only make sense to me but which you might also find kind of groovy.

Click the titles to listen to the mp3 files. Download them if you like.

In Search of the Monster Riff #1

In Search of the Monster Riff #2

In Search of the Monster Riff #3

massive ebook giveaway

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For the rest of July, I’m giving away most of my books completely free on Smashwords. This includes all the Meteor Mags books, even the collected Omnibus Edition, plus two books of original poetry, two gripping and gruesome short stories outside of the Mags series, my dream journal, and some public policy essays for the political-minded.

Just drop by my page at Smashwords and put as many freebies as you like in your cart before the end of the month.

This is part of a semi-annual promotion Smashwords does, so you can pick up a ton of eBooks from other authors for free or at steeply discounted prices, too. Stock up while you can!

omnibus cover - kindle and web

 

molt

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Since this poem has a man-versus-nature vibe, I made a robot read it.
Click here for the audio file.

molt

we used machines
to pound the earth smooth
still
it resists us

concrete crumbles like desiccated skin
letting life push through the cracks

a flower here
an ant hill there

each as powerful as a flood
or quake
in its own
small
way

this insect-ridden earth refuses
the exoskeleton we plaster over it

a molting cicada breaks free of its shell
the waxing moon casts off her shadow
they will have their day in the sun

the inconstant planet shudders in its sleep
throws off our metal blanket
tangles wires
topples towers

tectonics
gravity
and fire

the universe is not so different from us
it only has
more powerful machines

pop-up card

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Mom and I have a long history of exchanging handmade cards. Store-bought cards can be wonderful, but there’s something special about knowing a person took the time to not just buy something but create something unique for you.

For this past Mother’s Day, I wanted to make a card that would be unlike any I’d sent her before: a pop-up card. It turns out the Internet has a treasure trove of tutorials and inspiring examples, so I picked one and ran with it.

Mine has a pretty simple front: a butterfly based on a design I pulled from an image search, with the black lines done in Sharpie marker and the color done with acrylic paint thinned with water. Mom likes blue and butterflies, so I couldn’t go wrong with a blue butterfly.

pop up card exterior

All the paper is Bristol paper: what comic books used to be drawn on before the digital age. I did all the butterflies and other colored pieces individually, then cut them out and glued them in place.

Here’s the interior:

pop up card interior

Thanks to the sturdiness of Bristol paper, which is a bit like cardstock, the card can be displayed open like this. It took me the better part of a Sunday to put it all together, but this barely scratches the surface of what’s possible in a pop-up card. People have made everything from multi-layered hearts to dinosaur skeletons, so clearly the sky is the limit in the pop-up master class.

The basic idea is pretty straightforward, though. The body of the card is two pieces of paper. For the interior pop-up sections, you cut one of those pieces along lines perpendicular to the center fold. You fold those cut-out sections so they pop up at right angles to the fold of the main card. Glue the inside piece to the outside piece, without putting glue on the folded pop-up sections. Finally, cut out and glue anything you want to attach to those sections.

Bristol paper is sturdy and well-suited to being painted and displayed, but it can be challenging to make precise, smooth cuts in it with scissors.  I originally intended to cut out the butterfly antennae. I settled for drawing them on with Sharpie after I glued the butterflies in place. If I were making another card from shapes with finer, more complex details, I would try a thinner paper stock for those pieces.

 

four seconds of fame?

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The other day, I found an unexpected appearance of Mars Will Send No More in another medium: a YouTube video about comic books by WhatCulture. In the segment about Jack Kirby, an image of Galactus appears from 3:16 to 3:19. What words does the mighty Galactus utter in his speech balloons? That’s right: Mars Will Send No More. I’m guessing WhatCulture searched the web for images of the devourer of worlds and decided to go with one I’d altered for fun in the earliest days of this blog.

Dig it.

ocean

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ocean

against the unconquerable ocean
you remain far from powerless

you can dive below its surface
swim its currents and surf its perimeter
draw food from its depths and shallows
or live along its edges

so long as you realize
you will never be its equal
never match its immensity
or power

we are small things
unlike the stars that birthed us
or the moon who pulls the ocean
without ever touching her

respect and humility and fear
these words speak of our knowledge
that beyond the boundaries of continents
awaits what we will never subdue

an infinite depth of azure and obsidian
swallowing dreams
dissolving them for centuries
before setting them back on the shore

polished as smooth and featureless
as a mystery without end

 

 

 

Movies vs. Comic Books: Who Controls Time?

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Now that films based on comic books and superheroes have firmly entered the mainstream of popular culture, characters and storylines we comics readers have enjoyed for years regularly come to life on the big screen for a wider audience than comics ever reached. Long-time readers are often thrilled to see their favorite heroes in live-action movies, but some feel a bit of regret. After all, it can be disheartening to hear people discussing characters as if the movies tell the entire story, when many readers have followed the characters in-depth for years or even decades.

Compressing years of story into a two-hour theater experience means a lot gets left out, as anyone who read the Planet Hulk stories can tell you about the movie Thor: Ragnarok, or anyone who read Marvel’s Civil War comics can tell you about the Captain America movie of the same name. Plus, the big screen and the printed page are two distinctly different mediums, each with its own storytelling conventions, so they deliver distinctly different stories.

Movies usually follow a formulaic narrative structure. From the inciting incident to the hero’s crisis, predicting the next story beat in a movie is pretty easy. Comic books often employ more flexible and unusual structures—a point in their favor in my opinion. This is true despite a trend toward making modern mainstream comic books more cinematic in their approach to storytelling.

Near the turn of the century, Warren Ellis used the term widescreen comics to describe the blockbuster-movie style he was creating in The Authority with artists Bryan Hitch and Paul Neary. After 12 issues, writer Mark Millar and artist Frank Quitely came on board and kept up the cinematic approach. Millar, Hitch, and Neary soon combined forces to reinvent the Avengers as The Ultimates—the forerunner of the current film versions of the Avengers. For a more in-depth look at widescreen comics, and how they influenced movies as much as movies influenced them, see Peter Suderman’s article for Vox.

As far as I’m concerned, there hasn’t been a movie yet that equals those first 29 issues of The Authority. But it’s more than just the awesome stories, vicious dialogue, and stunning artwork. What makes the printed page most enjoyable for me can be summed up in two words: time control.

In a film, time passes at a fixed speed determined by the flow of film through a projector, or its digital equivalent these days. Yes, a movie can use slow motion or speed up time, but all of that is determined by the movie itself. Moviegoers have no control of it in a theater. Time passes at a pace determined exclusively by the filmmakers.

With printed pages, the reader controls time. The reader determines how long to spend on a panel or page. Readers can turn back the pages to see something again if they did not absorb it on the first read. The reader can set the book down and walk away, then come back to it and pick up again from any point in the narrative. Movies only provide this convenience if you own or stream a copy at home and can rewind it or freeze the frames.

While I enjoy movies, I tend to enjoy their comic-book source material far more due to time control. An awesome action scene might be over in seconds or minutes on the big screen, but I can linger on it for as long as I like with a printed page. A stunning visual appears on the screen for fleeting moments, then moves on to the next one. It leaves me feeling unsatisfied when I want to spend more time taking in all its detail and beauty. With a comic book, I can pore over the artists’ rendering and take time to appreciate every line and shape, every bit of hard work that went into inking and coloring the picture. Instead of having it all fade away as I leave a theater, I can come back to it again and again with a book.

While many recent comic-book movies do look great, the awesomeness always go by too quickly for me. I never have a chance to fully appreciate it before its gone. And when the theater lights come on, fun time is over unless I want to buy another ticket. The experience is transient and ephemeral compared to a physical book I can keep for years.

None of this should be taken as an argument over which medium is “better”. Enjoy what you enjoy. This is only an attempt to articulate a feeling I’ve had for years but never explained very well to people who expect me to be super excited about recent superhero movies. It isn’t that the movies are bad; they simply lack one of the biggest things that gives me enjoyment with comic books: time control.

 

On a less serious note: a video.

Thank You For Your Generous Support

July 2018 Update:

My GoFundMe fundraising page is now closed.

Thank you readers, friends, and friends of friends for your generous support!

 

Quarterly Report

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It’s been a quiet quarter here at Mars Will Send No More, with a few posts about retrofuturistic trading cards, some new poems, and a brief vignette. If you need more comic-book blogging in your life, I’m happy to report our old friends at Longbox Graveyard, after a long hiatus, just started a new series running every Monday. Since it’s always 1977 at the Longbox Graveyard, Paul will be covering a different comic book from 1977 every week. It’s fun, it’s free, and it’s like unearthing a glorious time capsule.

Just when I thought no one was paying attention anymore to my vast archive of comic book posts here, MyComicShop sent a message saying I had accumulated a nice credit in my account thanks to their affiliate program. No, I don’t make a dime off this blog—I lose money to keep it running—but I do earn a little “store credit” when readers click through links to MyComicShop to purchase comic-book goodness. Thanks to readers in the last six months, I earned enough credit to get a box of X-Men and Fantastic Four books I was forced to sell off five years ago.  I was sad to see them go in 2013, but we had a joyous reunion last weekend, and for that I am grateful to you. Thank you for reading and clicking!

As for why it’s been so quiet lately, most of my writing energy this year has focused on a story that’s been four years in the making. You might have noticed my ill-advised obsession with writing the utterly non-commercial fiction series The Adventures of Meteor Mags and Patches since 2014. The first 16 stories, totaling over 200,000 words, have been leading up to Mags’ birthday party in 2029. Now it’s time to throw that party—and have it all go horribly wrong.

More than once, I considered giving up. The self-induced pressure to take four years of notes and craft them into a narrative that would deliver a real payoff after all the build-up—honestly, I’ve had many days where I didn’t feel up to the challenge. Strangely, getting in touch with that feeling helped me work out several scenes where the odds against survival are so overwhelming that even the indomitable Mags thinks she might surrender to death at her enemies’ hands.

But what I love about Mags, and why I find it so fulfilling to write about the black-hearted smuggler’s adventures, is her unconquerable spirit. She’s stronger than I will ever be, yet she inspires me to be stronger than I am. I’ve often wondered if readers relate to her on a similar level. But last year, I sent a few of her stories to a friend who endures an extremely painful medical procedure every eight weeks. My friend recently told me she takes those stories with her every single time she goes in for the procedure, and she reads them, and they help her get through the experience.

Before it’s all said and done, Mags will probably conquer her fictitious solar system, but helping a real-life friend remains her greatest achievement. Mags is all about kicking ass no matter what life throws at her. If my irreverent space pirate’s strength can help someone cope with their own challenges, then her true mission is accomplished.

2018 has been a difficult year so far, but I hope you stick with Mars Will Send No More, and that you, too, keep kicking ass. Thank you for dropping by and reading, commenting, filling in gaps in my research on comic books and dinosaur collectibles, and enjoying my archives of artistic obsessions. I’m glad you’re here to share them with me.

 

 

 

 

shelter

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shelter

that night we hid from rain
under cover of a metal carport
lightning crackled overhead
and the warning drizzle became an onslaught

i only felt safe with you
it didn’t matter how long we hid
so long as we stayed together
your sense of adventure inspired me

your intractable desire to hunt
encouraged me
your constant presence at my side
comforted me

to hell with the storm
for thinking it trapped us
together
we were never cornered

that parking lot belonged to us
we hunted across its asphalt expanse
exterminating the small things
locusts moths and lengths of string

property lines and contracts we did not recognize
agreements of strangers we did not recognize
we owned our hunting ground
for as long as we survived

hours passed beneath our metal canopy
before the clouds relented
we acknowledged their awesome power
no different from ours

forces of nature
embodiments of will
we gloried in the surrounding chaos
knowing we were its equals

i have never forgotten your eyes
your nearness at night
how you touched your face to mine
saying everything without language

but i have often wished
to live as you lived
to demand this earth obey me
and answer to my whim

to remain indomitable
when hope evaporated
to rule everything
when nothing
belonged
to me

—for Ellie Kitty, who loved to take me on walks at 3 a.m., whatever the weather.