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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.”