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Small Flowers will be the twentieth episode in The Adventures of Meteor Mags and Patches, and I expected to finish drafting it this summer. But then I realized this is a good time to slow down and do something I rarely bothered with in the first ten stories: build Mags’ world in more depth and detail. The aftermath of The Battle of Vesta 4 is an opportunity to plant seeds for future stories and illuminate previously murky details about the solar system.

Small Flowers will resolve many ongoing sub-plots, but every resolution is the beginning of something new. As I mentioned in my memoir about writing the first 19 stories, the series began with a chaotic energy, and I didn’t bother thinking through a lot of stuff because I never expected to write more than a few simple stories that might make fun comic books. Five years later, I wish I had spent a little more time on things at the beginning. Now that the series is poised to go in an entirely new direction, I’ll take my time with Small Flowers.

Anyway, here’s a preview of Part I, which takes Anton and Kaufman in a new direction after Slim’s demise. It also sets up Part II, which takes place amidst the reconstruction of Ceres. Enjoy!

Part One: Relocate

In December 2029, a month after the invasion of Vesta, Meteor Mags and Patches traveled to Below the Belt Strip Club to have a drink and chat with its new owners. The club had been closed since the death of its founder and builder: Mags’ old friend and unofficially adopted nephew, Slim.

Slim’s death left a void in Mags’ heart, and his passing left the residents of the asteroid belt without a place to get a home-cooked meal while naked beauties danced onstage. The venue’s reputation for nude performances concerned its new owner, and Mags thought a face-to-face might get him sorted. Taking a seat at the bar, she raised a pint glass filled to the brim with black rum and said, “To Slim.”

“To Slim,” said Kaufman. The formerly clean-shaven administrator had grown a beard as part of his new identity. Mags had promised he and Anton would receive new photo IDs with new names before the month was over. He touched her glass with a much smaller glass. “The best damn chef this godforsaken Belt has ever known.”

Mags purred. “That’s the truth.” She took two generous gulps while Kaufman swallowed his single shot. Sleater-Kinney’s All Hands on the Bad One played over the club’s speakers courtesy of Mags’s private music library in the one room in the back that no one else could access—not even the man she had granted ownership of the place.

Kaufman’s glass hit the bar top with a resounding smack. He sat facing Mags. Each of them occupied a leather-upholstered bar stool. Their knees occasionally touched as they talked. Kaufman pretended the effect on him went unnoticed. The rum did not help. “Did Slim leave any recipes?”

Mags’ laughter reverberated in the empty club. “Oh, K-man! You crack me up.” Her gaze drifted to the stage where she had danced countless times over the years, and she welcomed the memories of cheers and catcalls. “Let me tell you something about Slim. Cooking was second nature to him. Ever since he was a kid working in his dad’s restaurant in Chinatown, his recipes were in his head—just like all his accounting. If there was one thing Slim’s old man taught him, it was ‘never leave a paper trail’.”

Kaufman said, “The opposite of what they taught us in the Port Authority.”

Mags wet her finger with rum and ran it around the lip of her glass until a musical note shimmered from the vessel. “But you, dear, burned quite a few paper trails anyway.”

“True.” He poured himself another shot. “I’m sure you can teach me to cook grub fit for a space miner. But what really worries me is—”

A slamming door interrupted him. Anton burst from the back of the club where Slim’s private luxury apartment had been taken over by the father and his fourteen-year-old son. “Dad,” the boy shouted, “I know what we need here!”

Kaufman peeled himself from Mags’ piercing eyes. The same eyes stared from the wall behind him in the framed poster enlargement of the cover to her solo piano album, Blind Alley Blues. The poster hung beside a framed copy of the Ceres 2027 concert poster. That one had cost Kaufman a fortune and arrived on his last day in office on Mars more than a month ago.

Mags had added a few framed mementos of her own: photographs of her and Patches, several of Celina dancing and posing with her girls, and an artist’s rendering of the Psycho 78s recording HyperSonicHatred.

Kaufman loved them all. He said, “Tell me, son.”

Anton charged the bar with an enthusiasm his middle-aged father envied. “A recording studio! In one of the rooms back there!”

“In the back rooms?” Kaufman knew what purpose those rooms had served under Slim’s management, though he’d never availed himself of the opportunity. “Son, where can we get the equipment for a—”

“Mags can get it! She can get anything.” Anton knelt on the floor to pet the sleeping calico cat between the two adults.

Patches opened her eyes at his touch. She rolled onto her back to invite belly rubs.

Anton rubbed the cat’s bushy underside.

Mags said, “He’s right. That’s a great idea.”

Kaufman said, “But in the—”

Mags bulldozed Kaufman’s objection. “We can knock down a wall or two. Make a serious studio back there. We can do isolation booths. Mics out the arse. The latest soundboard.” She gripped Kaufman’s shoulder and shook it. “Tell me that wouldn’t be awesome!

Anton implored his father. “Dumpster Kittens’ first album, Dad! We could record it right here!”

A realization dawned on Kaufman. They were offering an escape from his dilemma. Instead of having back rooms full of private lap dances and sexual activity, his son’s new band could have the run of the place. Kaufman wiped his hand over his face then flung the hand open in a gesture of release. “If Mags says she can make it happen, then I believe her. Let’s do it.”

“Yeah!” Anton sprang from the floor and crushed Kaufman in a hug.

Kaufman embraced his boy and set a hand on the back of Anton’s head. “We could make Dumpster Kittens the house band. You and your friends could jam here.”

Anton pulled away. “That would be amazing!

Mags gave Kaufman a wink from behind Anton. Her eyelashes snapped shut like the petals of a Venus flytrap for the briefest part of a second before releasing him. “Hell yes, it would. You should get Tinta and Jeremy in the mix. Convert one of the rooms to a tattoo and body-mod shop. Take a cut for the house. We can turn a few rooms into living quarters for some of my girls. They’ll earn more than their rent, and you’ll have plenty of space to spare.”

“I’m just worried.” The speakers played Flowers in the Basement by Mammoth Indigo. Kaufman withered. “Maybe we could discuss this another—”

“Just fucking say it, K-man. You ain’t gonna break the boy.”

“Fine. I’m worried that if we re-open—”

When we re-open.”

When we re-open, people will expect all kinds of activity that, frankly, I don’t know if I want Anton exposed to every night.”

“There it is.” Mags drained the rest of her glass and motioned to Kaufman to re-fill it. “Anton? How do you feel about living and recording in a place that has naked women parading on stage every night of the week?”

Kaufman’s palm slapped his forehead. “Jesus, Mags.”

“What? He was fine at the Assteroid! Let the boy speak!” Mags raised her eyebrows and gestured with a sweep of her open palm to invite the young man’s opinion.

“I, uh—” Anton clung to his father, but he studied the adults’ faces, first one, then the other.

In the moment Anton considered his next words, Mags pressed her hand, palm up, at Kaufman to silence the man.

Anton said, “Dad, I liked Club Assteroid. Everyone was nice to me. I made friends. Everyone was always dressing up and doing makeup and talking about hairstyles, and I—I mean it was fun, you know?”

Mags chuckled and flicked ash from the end of her cigarette. “It was good times, wasn’t it, Anton? You got along great with my girls!”

Anton’s gaze fell to the floor. He found Patches blinking at him. He thought of nights the cat had slept beside him in the hangar following the invasion. Her paws kneaded the air, and she mewed. He said, “Do you really think so?”

Mags slapped her leg. “I know so! Anton, my girls ask about you every day since you’ve been here. I admit, they just barely put up with the guys in the Psycho 78s. But they felt right at home with you. They’d love to see you again. I heard you got pretty good at helping them with their makeup.”

When the boy answered with a shy smile and averted eyes, Kaufman asked, “Anton? All that dancing and carrying on didn’t bother you?”

The young man met his father’s eyes. His multi-colored spikes had grown out to reveal their roots in the past month, and he needed to remove most of the beads Mags’ dancers wove into his hair during his first days on Vesta. He had plans for a new hairstyle once that one grew out a little more.

Mags said, “Just tell him, dear.”

Anton looked mortified.

“Go on, my little Dumpster Kitten.”

“Dad,” he said, “I like the dancing. I think it’s pretty. The dancers are pretty. But I don’t—I mean—I’m just not into girls that way.”

Mags reveled in the stunned look on Kaufman’s face. She slammed her palm on the bar. “Let’s have a round on the house!” She re-filled her glass and Kaufman’s, and she handed a third shot to Anton. “Bottoms up, little man.”

Anton took the shot and sought his father’s approval.

“Go on, Son. Cheers.”

The boy drained the shot glass. He staggered slightly but didn’t cough, and he handed it back to Mags. “Dad? You’re not mad?”

Kaufman slid off his stool and took his son in his arms. “Why would I be mad? I’m sorry if you think I could ever be mad at you, Anton.”

Mags quietly sipped her rum in the moments of silence that followed. Kaufman, she thought. I love the guy to death, but sometimes he is the last fucking person to get aboard the clue train.

“Anton,” said Kaufman, “just be you. The only thing that matters to me—and I mean the only thing—is that you are safe and happy.”

“Me too, Dad. That, and Dumpster Kittens.”

Kaufman laughed. “Yes, and Dumpster Kittens.” He patted Anton on the back.

Mags’ left tit chimed with the sound of a twentieth-century phone ring. “For fuck’s sake.” She pulled a tiny black square from her bra, touched it with her thumb print, and shouted, “What?!”

“Hey, tía. You busy?”

“Lonso! Never too busy for my favorite nephew.”

“I thought Tarzi was your favorite.”

“He’s my other favorite. How’s Plutonian?”

“You wanna talk to him? He’s trying to invent some shit to record the octopuses’ brain waves.”

Mags purred. “Let the man work. Does he seem happy?”

“He’s still broken up,” said Alonso. “Drinking way too much, even for a pirate. But if I keep him busy on projects, he seems okay. He even made friends with Karpov.”

“Karpov is such a dick.”

“No lie,” said Alonso. “Can I ask you a question, or do you want to keep gossiping about your boyfriend?”

“He isn’t my boyfriend, fucker!”

“Yeah, right. Anyway, the new band has a show coming up in a month, and we still don’t have a name. Do you got any ideas?”

“They extended my work on Mersenne Primes. How about The Mersenne Primates?”

“Too cerebral,” said Alonso. “Most people aren’t as into math as you.”

“I don’t know. How about Atheist Abortion Clinic?”

“Are you fucking high? We are on a cosmic trip, not a political one.”

“What about Blunt Force Trauma?”

“Seriously heavy, tía. But we’re all about peace and love now.”

“Damn it, Lonso! What do I know about peace and love? Let me ask someone.” Mags interrupted the conversation between Kaufman and his son. “Anton! Help me out here.”

“What do you need, Auntie?”

He had never called her that before, and the occasion elicited a thunderous purr. “I need a band name. It’s for a bunch of telepathic octopuses and these Stalinist space monkeys frying their fucking brains out with my old pal Alonso who is into ska, punk, and doom metal.” Mags grabbed her glass. “I can’t believe I just said that sentence out loud.”

Anton asked, “What kind of music do they play?”

“It’s some kind of hippie drum circle stoner rock with metal and psychedelic influences. Plus, they want to start a galaxy-wide revolution or something.”

“Oh,” said Anton, as if he heard similar descriptions every day. “You should name them after that Sonic Youth song. Small Flowers Crack Concrete.”

Mags pounded her fist on the bar so hard that the mahogany creaked under her assault. “Yes!” She held up her hand to summon silence and shouted into her phone. “Small Flowers! You are the tiny weeds that will grow in the cracks of the concrete of the solar system and break the whole fucking thing apart!”

“Oh, hell yes, tía. Small Flowers! But we’ll be big soon. Did you just think of that?”

“Nah, mate, my nephew Anton rocked it. He’s a huge Sonic Youth fiend. Just like his old man.”

“Right on, ese. Imma run it by the band and see what they think. I bet they love it. Can I call you later?”

“You can call me anytime.” Mags lifted her empty glass and eyed the massive liquor collection Slim had built on the opposite side of the bar. “I might not answer. But you can still call me.” She hung up without waiting for a reply. “Small flowers!”

Mags slid off her barstool. Her fluffy tail flicked this way and that. “He loves it!” She scooped Patches from the floor and cradled the calico in her arms, gently rubbing one ear with a thumb. “That was a stroke of genius, little man.”

Anton dragged a hand through his hair, pushing it back. “Dad should get the credit. He played me all the Sonic Youth albums.”

Mags poured Patches out of her arms and onto the bar. “You gonna make some racket like that on stage here?”

“I hope so.”

“I know so. You get Sarah and Jinx up there with you, and this shit will be jumping off.” Mags discovered Kaufman’s befuddled look at her easy rapport with his son. “Anton,” she said, “your dad’s pretty awesome.” She wrapped her arm around Kaufman’s shoulders. “You’re lucky to have him.”

Mags thought of her mother and the love they had shared, pure and unconditional. Mags had, at some points in her century-long life, stopped believing she would ever see that kind of love again. But she saw it between Anton and his father. She let Kaufman go and dropped her face so her wild locks of hair fell over her cheeks and hid the mist in her eyes. She went behind the bar and examined the liquor bottles with more attention to detail than they deserved.

Later, outside the club with Patches in her arms, Mags considered the stars. She rubbed her face into her cat’s voluminous fluff, and the two of them purred in unison. Mags whispered a prayer. “Great-gramma, thank you for Anton. That kid did more to solve my problems than I could alone.”

The silver band on her left ring-finger glowed with a warmth that comforted the pirate until her tail stopped flicking and only the tip switched back and forth in the desolate quiet of the infinite glitter around her. “We can keep the dancing in the main bar, but have the kids recording and bunking in the back of the house. Jeremy and Tinta have a place to live and work if they want it. All of which keeps the money flowing.”

Mags opened the door to the Bêlit and set Patches on the deck. “Goddess. When did I get so old that I started worrying more about cash flow than rocking out and killing everyone who gets in my way?”

Patches scratched the side of her face with a rear paw and gave Mags her opinion.

“Screw you too, baby kitty!” Mags laughed and laughed. “Maybe you’re right.” She took her seat in the captain’s chair. “Maybe it’s time for us to stop worrying about business and get back to raising almighty hell.”

The ship powered up and lifted into the limitless black of space where an array of glowing fires lived only to light the darkness. Mags tuned the radio to her favorite station.

A familiar voice announced, “That was Betty Blowtorch with Hell on Wheels. And a smokin’ Joan Jett cover of Pretty Vacant. Next up, Delta Alba Plex by Unida. This is the Puma Broadcasting Network. Long live the resistance.”

“Oh, hell yeah.” Mags swished her tail and turned up the volume. “Then again,” she said, “we’ve got business to take care of before the Ceres concert. First stop: Mars. And then…”

While Mags explained the plan for the next month, Patches curled into a half moon with her front legs around a stuffed seahorse on her favorite corner of Tarzi’s new bunk. The young man’s familiar scent comforted her. The plush toy between her paws comforted her. Mags’ constant monologue when no one else was around comforted her.

The invincible kitten purred herself to sleep.

From the Letters of Meteor Mags. January 2030.

I won’t lie to you about the reconstruction of Ceres, but I won’t write the whole truth, either. What I’d like you to remember is that my girls were on the frontlines, up to their elbows in blood trying to heal the wounded, feed the hungry, and piece together a broken civilization.

Early in November, Earth committed resources to the rebuilding. But when intercontinental war broke out on my one hundred and sixth birthday, those resources vanished into thin air. Earth’s influence was limited to mercenary forces the corporations sent to protect their mining facilities.

Patches and I took care of most of them. I didn’t live this long letting a few merc squads stand in my way, and Patches couldn’t give half a wet fuck about any of them.

I called in a few favors, spent an ungodly amount of money, and after about three weeks of Patches and me killing every corporate goon we could get our paws on, the Ceresians got the help they needed. Ships from Mars landed safely. They set up food distribution and medical facilities, and I didn’t have to break but two or three skulls before peeps on the ground understood the shit was going down in an orderly fashion.

Because let me tell you, some people were in desperate circumstances. So were me and my girls, and some of us had been on Ceres when the shit hit the fan. When that tornado touched down, me and Patches and a bunch of our crew were caught in it, and so were Tinta and Jeremy, and Jinxy. Once our story got out to the Ceresians, they realized we were on the same team.

But I knew we’d get it sorted. The Psycho 78s concert on Ceres back in ’27 was the fuckin’ bomb. Anyone not at the show was rioting in the streets. This asteroid—sorry, this dwarf planet—belonged to the revolution, pure and simple. All we needed was a chance to wipe the scum off it so the people could do their thing.

And that tornado, and the war on Earth, and all those dick-holes attacking my club? It was horrible. All of it. Except the parts where me and Patches were killing those fucks. Those parts were awesome. I mean the other parts.

Anyway. What I’m trying to say is this: despite everything we lost, we had an opportunity to build something new.

And that’s exactly what we did.