Here is a draft of a new Meteor Mags story, in three parts.
METEOR MAGS: DEKARNA TRIUMPHANT
Episode 30 in The Adventures of Meteor Mags and Patches.
© 2021 by Matthew Howard. All Rights Reserved.
Held against her will on a South Pacific island, the last surviving soldier from a race of evil space lizards reclaims her mind from her tentacled, telepathic captors, trains her children as warriors, and triumphs over her greatest enemy: Meteor Mags.
For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.
—Henry Beston; The Outermost House, 1928.
Prologue: Into Their Graves
August 2030. From the Letters of Meteor Mags.
Patches and I are on our way back to Earth. The last visit didn’t work out so well, but at least my ribs healed since then. Back in May, I promised to supply the reptiles on Isla Salida with weapons, food, and whatever else they need to become my personal death squad under the control of the octopuses I left to watch over them.
Before I left, I ran into Fuzzlow and Donny. They don’t talk much about losing their drummer and our good friend, Batalla, in that colossal clusterfuck on Vesta last year. But they’ve kept busy on Ceres, helping with the reconstruction, getting in Celina’s hair, and composing new songs.
Lonso invited the guys to join his interspecies band, but Donny and Fuzz don’t want anything to do with jamming in a cephalopod-controlled groupmind. I explained to them how awesome it was to play with Lonso’s traveling freakshow on Ceres, but I suspect the boys think I am too mentally unhinged to be a reliable source.
They might be right. Not everything has gone according to plan with the octos. Besides the weird states of mind I’ve experienced since mentally merging with their mama last year—goddess rest her soul—some of them tried to kill me and Patches and Plutes on Titan a couple of months ago.
I chalked it up to a misunderstanding and moved on, especially since no mind like theirs has ever existed, and they are still, in so many ways, like children: haphazardly learning, making mistakes, taking some lumps, and getting sorted about their place in the universe.
Donny and Fuzznuts are less inclined to forgive my tentacled toddlers. And I get that. Everybody’s baby is someone else’s monster.
I wasn’t shocked when the boys brought up recording another album as the Psycho 78s. You know how they are. “Come on, Mags! It’ll be great!” Nevermind that I have a million things to do right now. Fuzz said, “When are you not busy?”
I was like, “I’ll be free about four days after I’m dead.”
“Fuck that.” Donny tossed me a beer.
They’re good guys, as far as guys go. A good beer, too. I didn’t recognize it. Definitely not one of the brands I stole by the shipload to keep our cozy dwarf planet stocked. Not one I ever drank in the Belt, either—and I’ve been to every bar in the System. I asked where they got it.
“We made it,” said Fuzz.
“For real,” said Donny. “We’re thinking of opening a brewery and music venue here.”
The conversation turned to who would play there, and all the Ceresian bands that have been inspired by Dumpster Kittens, and how the new community center is nice but maybe not rowdy enough for our taste. Pretty soon, they had me agreeing to appear onstage.
What can I say? I love those guys, even if I give them hell. I’d never say it to their faces, but I expect to outlive them, and I’d like to jam with them as many times as possible before I end up shoveling dirt into their graves.
If I’ve learned one thing about life in one hundred and six bloody years of existence, it’s that you need to enjoy the people you have while you have them, because you never know when they’ll be gone for good.
Anyway, I think I made them happy. They gave me and Patches a case of bottled homebrew for the road, and I hugged them and kissed their cheeks.
Then it was time to go. What with all the nonsense of the last month and that mess on Mars, I’m way behind on my promised visit to the island.
But I’m sure my octos have it all under control.
Part One: The Fall of the House of Octopus
One hundred and forty million years before humans first walked the Earth, octopuses lost their shells. Without the stiff enclosure that protects other mollusks, the eight-armed marvels could squeeze their bodies through any tube or crevice larger than their beaks.
This ability helped octopuses find shelter from predators. But given their innate curiosity, it also got them into plenty of trouble. Still, they survived, adapted, and evolved into hundreds of species. It wasn’t until 2029 that a new stage of octopus evolution introduced another survival advantage that also allowed them to get into all kinds of unimagined trouble: telepathy.
When Meteor Mags—with help from Patches and Tarzi—assisted the hatching of that first generation of genetically altered baby octopuses in an abandoned asteroid laboratory, she inadvertently changed the future of marine biology. But the change did not happen overnight. During their first year, Mags’ “babies”, as she liked to call them, met other members of the space pirate’s crew, started a rock band, gave concerts and influenced societies on Ceres and throughout the Asteroid Belt, and terraformed Titan with the help of a mysterious, multi-dimensional object.
In May 2030, Mags took fifty of her babies to Earth for the first time. She enlisted them to control the mind of one of her enemies who recently had babies of her own: Dekarna, the former second in command of the forces of space lizards Mags fought so many times. Mags intended for the reptiles to become her private warriors and the guardians of one of two installation sites planned for the free-energy system she wanted to bring to Earth.
The mission’s fifty octopodal volunteers had a second motivation. They knew their lifespans were short, and their identity as a groupmind would die without a new generation to carry on their unique lineage. Only in Earth’s oceans could they find potential mates to spread their genes far and wide, and, through telepathic instruction, perpetuate their identity and all they had learned about the universe.
In June 2030, the cephalopodic swarm began courting the local octopuses in the South Pacific waters surrounding their adopted island home of Isla Salida. Competitors could not match their hypnotic songs, transmitted from mind to mind. Potential mates swooned, in their gelatinous way, seduced by the allure of higher intelligence and the survival advantages it offered.
But octopus reproduction does not end well for the parents. Males who offer sperm are often strangled to death in the process or eaten soon thereafter by the females. Mothers live longer, laying hundreds of eggs and watching over their clutches until the hatching.
Even then, a female octopus abandons eating during her single-minded attention to her eggs. She begins a time of starvation and senescence that reduces her focus, clarity, and mobility. Her aquatic world fades around her as she uses what little energy she has left to tend to her unborn descendants. Their birth signals her death.
Mags failed to account for these realities in her plans. She did not consider how the reproductive imperative encoded in her octos’ genes meant they would be diverting their attention and ending their lives.
In July 2030, thousands of fresh octopus eggs piled up on the stones and coral around Isla Salida. As the male adults died off, and the expectant mothers ignored their task of controlling Dekarna, Mags’ plans came undone.
Dekarna crouched on the rocky edge of a cliff high above the outer edge of Isla Salida. Her clawed, naked feet gripped the stone. Her prehensile tail was straight and stiff for most of its length, balancing her body weight in her hunting stance. Only the tip of the tail slowly swept the air, back and forth.
Her right hand held a wooden spear. Dekarna had shaped one end to a lethal point using fragments of rocks beaten to a sharp edge with other rocks. Her children lacked her skill with making weapons from the island landscape, but they were learning.
The thought of her offspring brought what passed for a smile among reptiles: scaly lips pulled back ever so slightly, formidable teeth exposed, and a forked tongue flicking in a delicate dance.
The tongue, like a snake’s, picked up the scent of prey. Mammalian megafauna had never colonized the island, but rodents flourished, along with many species of birds accentuated by seasonal colonies who temporarily nested on the cliffs to lay delicious eggs and hatch easily devoured younglings.
The island also provided a steady supply of smaller reptiles who basked on its sunbaked stone, snakes who stretched up to five meters in length, and hordes of scurrying, skittering insects who often exceeded the size of a human hand and provided protein for Dekarna’s brood. Combined with the bounty of fish, eels, and mollusks in the adjacent waters, the island’s biodiversity made it a predator’s paradise. Dekarna and her children ate well, ate often, and thrived.
Dekarna allowed the sun to heat her blood. It charged her like a battery. She was not exothermic like the island’s native reptiles. She generated her own warmth. But even a monstrous reptile from space could enjoy a beautiful day.
Her tongue flicked again to taste the salty spray of seawater as it bashed against the lithic boundary between island and ocean.
All her life, she had dreamed of such moments. Born in outer space and conscripted into military service, she rose in the ranks due to her courage, ferocity, intellect, and dedication to the cause of reclaiming Earth for her species, to making a new home of the blue planet they had left for the stars so many millennia before.
Her dream drove her onward, from boot camp to battlefield. No matter what hardship or humiliation she encountered, she held the dream of a home planet in her teeth and would not let it go.
Her commander had destroyed her dream through his incompetent obsessions, and she had only come to Earth through the machinations of the space pirate known as Meteor Mags.
Dekarna flicked her tongue again. A low, rumbling growl escaped her throat. She had not thought of her commander nor his nemesis in—how long? Her pupils expanded and contracted. How long?
She struggled to remember. She shut her eyes and let the awareness overtake her.
The accursed smuggler! Behind closed eyes, Dekarna saw flashes of her military career, her long-dead commander and how he inseminated her fallen form on the battlefield. How he almost got them both killed. How Meteor Mags—
The dragon roared. Dekarna gripped the spear in both hands and crushed it in her grip. She bent it until it broke and shot splinters in every direction.
The smuggler. The smuggler and her octopuses. The degradation at her hands. The mental slavery—not just Dekarna’s, but the only creatures she had ever loved: her children.
Dekarna hurled the broken pieces of her weapon to the ground. She did not, at first, realize her insights into her situation were the result of the octopus matings and the subsequent loss of control. She was too busy racing down the rock formations, crashing through the tropical forest below, trampling everything in her path and screaming orders to her offspring to meet her.
Had the smuggler wanted a death squad? Fine, thought Dekarna in her native tongue. She will have one. But the death will be hers. The reptile crashed through the underbrush onto the beach.
Dekarna’s children gathered around her. She told them the truth, and she saw in their eyes they also were free from mental captivity. She guided them, and they helped her make weapons to destroy their captors.
Dekarna plunged into the sea. Her tongue thrashed the saltwater in search of only one scent: octopus. Her tail propelled her. In one fist, she held a new spear. Strapped by animal skin and handmade rope to her forearms and upper legs, blades knapped from shards of volcanic obsidian caught the sunbeams penetrating the shallows. They went fully black as the light faded.
In a matter of minutes, Dekarna found the first clutch of eggs.
When the mother octopus sensed the reptile’s approach, she squirted a blast of ink. Octopus ink is meant to do more than obscure a predator’s vision. The substance contains scents intended to fool a beast into thinking it has suddenly found food rather than a murky cloud.
Dekarna was not fooled. Her muscular swimming carried her forward, through the cloud, to her target.
Near the nadir of her lifeforce, the mother octopus moved too slowly to put up a fight or escape. The photoreceptors and color-changing cells in her skin camouflaged her, making her nearly indistinguishable from the surrounding stone. The precaution did not save her.
Dekarna’s spear struck like a lightning bolt. The pointed tip pierced one of the octopuses’ three hearts and its central brain.
Dekarna ripped the spear from the gooey head and struck again. When she drew the weapon toward her mouth, the impaled octopus came with it. Frantic motions of eight independently thinking arms waved away the monster in a final attempt to protect the clutch.
Dekarna snapped the arms into her jaws and destroyed them. The remaining hearts and eyeballs burst in her mouth. She spat out the beak.
The eggs offered no defense against her attack. Dekarna speared them, smashed them with her tail, and—anchoring herself with one hand gripping the underwater rock formations—stomped them into a gel that dispersed in the agitated sea.
Flush with satisfaction, Dekarna sought her next target. She made her way around the island’s perimeter. The infanticide repeated itself dozens of times, punctuated only by the reptile’s need to rise to the surface for air. She gorged herself on her kill as she carried out her mission.
Before she was through, she considered an alternative. With the fresh taste of octopus in her mouth, she decided to let a few clutches survive. The eggs would not hatch immediately, so why not save a few for later, as a treat for her children? They could eat the embryonic octos raw or cook them over fire on the beach. What greater pleasure could life offer than feasting on one’s enemies?
Dekarna snatched a mouthful of eggs but did not swallow. She carried them to the surface and climbed onto land. After shaking herself like a dog ridding its fur of water, she squatted in the sand and urinated to mark the location of her larder.
She took her dinner home.
Kilometers away, a monster roamed the ocean. Twenty meters long and with enough electrical power to sink a fleet of manmade ships, the cybernetic ichthyosaur feared nothing.
Before he met Mags, he spent countless years in isolation, imprisoned underground in a tank fashioned by his captors and creators, with nothing to keep him company but the decaying corpse of his mate.
The parts of him that were biological rather than mechanical remembered the seas by instinct. But his ancestors had died out millions of years before, and the shapes of seabeds and coastlines, even the positions of continents, had changed so much since prehistoric times.
He propelled himself through a herd of a hundred hammerheads. They scattered and gave him a wide berth. Hammerhead sharks hunted with electrical receptors in their flattened snouts. But the electricity from the ichthyosaur signaled something too large to eat, something that could only mean their deaths if they interfered. Sharks had not survived multiple mass extinction events by being foolish.
The ichthyosaur ignored them. The waters near Isla Salida gave him plenty of opportunity to study their species. His curiosity about what else swam in his new kingdom led him farther and farther from the island.
Undeterred by the greatest, coldest depths, and capable of producing his own light, he cast his enormous eyes on sea floors never seen by humans. Strange creatures thrived in the sunless terrain. Nearly one hundred percent of the energy required for life comes in one form or another from the sun. But a tiny fraction capitalizes on energy from below, from the planet’s brutally hot, metal core and the magma surrounding it, boiling, churning, bursting through the crust.
The ichthyosaur discovered multicellular civilizations with no central brain. He studied geothermal vents where raw, savage chemistry assembled itself into the fundamental proteins for new life: the same processes responsible for his most distant ancestors’ creation.
The ocean revealed her secrets to her king, and he was pleased. He set off spectacular lightshows as he rose from the depths, bringing illumination to the eyes of species that had never seen the sun.
He didn’t feel angry like Dekarna. The octopuses subjected him to far less severe mental control. Truth be told, he adored Mags and required little encouragement to help her. If not for the smuggler, he would have remained trapped in the tragic crypt where he was made.
Still, the octos had kept him on a leash. As their influence faded, the invisible leash grew longer and longer. Eventually, he found its breaking point.
Then he was gone.
The ichthyosaur broke the waves to splash the surface. His massive tail, beating side to side, shot him out of the water. His metallic skin caught the sunlight. A trillion beads of water sliced the silver reflection into gleaming diamonds. A spray like stars exploded then fell from the sky.
He missed his friends on the island. He had lived without anyone to play with for a long, long time, and the mollusks and the mother reptile were good company.
Flocks of a dozen bird species caught his eye. He had never seen their kind before. They divebombed the surface to plunder a frenzied school of herring, a bait ball herded by air bubbles and driven toward the sky by dolphins in a sophisticated hunting maneuver.
The ichthyosaur swam closer to observe the conflict in detail. Leaving vortexes in his wake, he resolved to pay a visit to his old friends.
But first, he had more empire to explore.
Isla Salida’s August weather brought nights a bit too cool for the reptiles’ liking, but daytime in that dry season offered uninterrupted hours of direct sunlight. The sun kept the island warm at an average high of twenty-five degrees Celsius, like a pleasant Spring day, and made the surrounding waters just as balmy.
Dekarna’s youngsters frolicked in the surf at the edge of the black-sand lagoon lining the inner curve of the crescent island. Though not yet as tall as her, each one had reached at least one meter in height. From the shore, while carving a tree branch into a strong, smooth staff, Dekarna admired the half-dozen lives she had brought into being.
Like kittens, they played at battle to sharpen their skills. Some hunted the silvery, darting fish in the shallows. Their shrieking and chirping amused their mother, until a dark spot appeared in the sky and grew larger.
Months before, on Tannis, Dekarna saw a similar speck descend from the stars. She had been soundly defeated at the hands of Meteor Mags, and that defeat led to her enslavement on the island.
Dekarna raised her sword-filled mouth and roared a warning. All across the island, from one crescent tip to another, echoes of rage called her warriors to attention.
Never again would they be enslaved by the smuggler.
 For Mags’ disastrous previous visit to Earth, see Antipodes.
 As detailed in Small Flowers.
 See The Battle of Vesta 4.
 Mags performed on Ceres with Alonso’s band in Small Flowers.
 As shown in The Crystal Core.
 Mags’ expected, though not guaranteed, lifespan is 200 years thanks to the magic ring she inherited from her great-gramma.
 As told in Red Metal at Dawn and subsequent adventures such as Small Flowers and The Crystal Core.
 See Small Flowers for more detail. Mags’ failure to install the second unit appears in Antipodes.
 For her commander’s folly, see Red Metal at Dawn and The Battle of Vesta 4. For Mags’ machinations, see Small Flowers.
 See Hunted to Extinction for the ichthyosaur’s backstory, and his liberation at Mags’ hands in Small Flowers.
 See Small Flowers.