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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.