Welcome To My Greenhouse


"I can taste it from here."

Returning to Earth after sixty-five years lost in space, Amelia and the other survivors of a disastrously failed expedition come out of suspended animation to discover that the world has changed in their absence. Only a handful of lights flicker on the unusually green surface of the Earth, and a massive ball of vegetation orbits the planet like a second moon. But the struggle for survival has just begun, as the crew battles against not only the Earth’s homegrown invasive species, but another that they have inadvertently brought home with them.

Kudzu updates on Sundays.

Browse the Table of Contents, or jump directly to Chapter 1.




It’s been a while. Things have been busy, and I haven’t had time to work on Kudzu, sadly. It’s not dead, it’s just resting. Mostly I have had too many things pressing in on various levels that have prevented me from pushing on with this novel. It’s about 2/3rds of the way through, and I have a good idea of where it needs to end up, and fair idea of things that have to happen on the way from here to there, but only a vague idea of the path that that entails. What I need is a couple weeks to immerse myself in just this novel to pull all the pieces together. That time isn’t now.

I’d like to tell you a little of what’s going on.

If you’re unaware, I publish and co-edit The Journal of Unlikely Entomology, an online magazine of fiction about or involving bugs in some interesting and non-trivial manner.

This month, the bugzine is molting, growing into something that remains true to itself, but more: bigger, better, and more diverse. The new zine is called Unlikely Story, which is an umbrella for the continued exploits of the bugzine, and also for other unlikely studies. Our first issue of Unlikely Story will be The Journal of Unlikely Architecture, which will come out before the end of the month. The next issue will be another bugzine issue, in November, and then The Journal of Unlikely Cryptography will be out in Jan/Feb of 2014.

Along with this comes a new website: http://www.unlikely-story.com. At this time we’re about 2-3 days away from being done the testing phase. And 1-1.5 weeks away from posting up The Journal of Unlikely Architecture.

Good news for writers and artists: along with the name change comes an increase in pay rates. Check out our submission guidelines at http://www.unlikely-story.com/submission-guidelines-2/.

Another languishing project is The Flesh Made Word – an anthology of erotica involving the act of writing, to be published by Circlet Press. There are some fantastic stories that have come in for this book, from some great writers, and I’m looking forward to sharing them with you. And once I get the Architecture issue done and out, it’ll be time to concentrate on this.

Are there other stories in the works, y’know, written by me? Yes. “A Taste of Gold” is coming out this month in Big Pulp’s Apeshit issue, which you can pre-order through their indiegogo fundraiser. (63 hours to go – go help them out, and get yourself a fantastic book of monkey stories!)

In October I have a story slated for the debut issue (October) of Betwixt Magazine. I’m excited to be part of Ms. Crelin’s new venture; she’s a fantastic editor, and I have no doubt she’s putting together a treat.

There are also a few stories in the writing queue. Somewhere in between all this stuff, I’m hoping to get some work done on at least some of them.

So, Kudzu is not dead, but it’s taking a back seat to some other stuff that’s a bit more pressing. I hope to get back to it soon, and bring this grand adventure to it’s inevitable conclusion. In the meantime, come visit us at Unlikely Story, and check out the further adventures of yer humble author at http://www.kappamaki.com.


Kudzu, Book VII, Chapter 49

Kudzu, a Novel

Book VII: As Yet Untitled

Chapter 49


They spent the night in the back room of Calin’s Pub. Not the office, but the back room behind the semi-concealed door.

Sir Reginald remembered that Calin kept a card table and some chairs there for less-than-licit gaming on Friday nights. There were no cards there now, though, and no card table. Instead, there was a small, single bed with a lumpy mattress and a couple of dog beds, a refrigerator and small pantry of dry goods, and a locked gun cabinet.

One more place where his memories diverged from reality.

Calin let them in after closing up for the night. He left the key to the gun cabinet with Albert.

“Ah, now this brings back memories, eh, Reggie?” Albert said. He’d been saying that all night, growing more maudlin each time Calin refilled his glass. “I call the paisley bed.”

He took the larger of the two dog beds for himself. He circled it a few times and then settled in, curled in a ball. “Though it’s not the same without Mileva.” He draped his tail over his eyes.

Sir Reginald sighed, and laid his coat over the cold linoleum tiles. He rolled the other dog bed into a makeshift pillow, but it sprung open on him. He tried folding it instead, which worked slightly better.

“Should we give the old guy the bed?” Kevyn asked. She laughed and flopped back on the mattress.

“Get up,” Murphy said.

Other than a few whispered words exchanged with Calin, it was the first she’d spoken since changing out of the hideous orange prison uniform, and into a far more fetching combination of jeans and a black t-shirt. She’d gone into Calin’s office angry and confused, and come back out thoughtful and — if Sir Reginald wasn’t misreading her — upset. Distressed. She wouldn’t speak to anyone, just sat and drank. It was because of the note, he was sure. She hadn’t shown it to him, and he hadn’t pried, but if he was going to go back into the past at some point in the future to leave her a note, he’d need to find out what it said.

Unless he wasn’t the one who wrote it. Absurd. Who else could it have been?

“Get up,” Murphy repeated.

“What? You’re not serious, are you?”

“Yes.” Murphy grabbed Kevyn’s arm and pulled.

She was, Sir Reginald saw, quite strong for her size, and he was suddenly grateful that she hadn’t resisted the escape. Kevyn seemed just as surprised, as she found herself up on her feet and falling into Murphy’s arms.

Murphy shifted her to the side and caught up the blankets that draped the bed, tossing them at Sir Reginald.

“He needs them more,” Murphy said.

“Yeah, but this is all his fault,” Kevyn said. She clung unnecessarily to Murphy’s arm.

“Indubitably,” Sir Reginald said, as he clumsily folded the blankets into a makeshift mattress, or at least a layer of padding between himself and the floor. He was drunk enough that it was a challenge. “Ms. Vaughn has a point. It is all my fault.”

“Shut up and get settled,” Murphy said. “Lights out in one minute.”

Sir Reginald snorted a laugh as he lay down and pulled his coat over himself. “Ms. Murphy, should I ever find myself incarcerated, it would be a great pleasure to have you as my jailor.”

“I’ll see what I can arrange,” Murphy said. She killed the lights.

Sir Reginald cleared his throat. “Ms. Vaughn, you can stop giggling now.”


It was cold.

Kevyn shivered under the thin sheet, and momentarily cursed Sir Reginald for taking the blankets. But that wasn’t fair. Murphy was right: it would be colder, and far less comfortable, on the floor. And besides, unlike Sir Reginald, she had a beautiful woman to keep her warm.

She shifted, trying to bring more of her body into contact with the sleeping Murphy. For warmth.


Kevyn woke spooned up against Murphy’s back, her face nestled in the hollow of her neck, pillowed on soft hair.

She breathed the scent of Murphy’s hair and tried to get back to sleep. Murphy’s skin was soft and warm under her hand where… Her hand was under Murphy’s shirt; she could feel her ribs under her fingers, and the underside of Murphy’s left breast lay against the top of her thumb.

Kevyn’s left arm was squashed uncomfortably between them, half asleep. She shifted, raising her arm until it pillowed her head, bringing her body closer to Murphy’s, breasts pressed flat against shoulder blades, and her right hand… her right hand had shifted, of its own accord, to cup Murphy’s breast.

The crease of her palm was, quite suddenly, the most sensitive spot on her body. A newly discovered erogenous zone. Murphy’s nipple was electric against her skin. She moved her hand as slowly as she could, rolling the nipple gently under her hand.

No. This was wrong. Kevyn held her breath and slowly slid her hand off Murphy’s breast and down to her belly.

“What are you doing?” Murphy said, her voice a whisper.

Kevyn couldn’t breathe.

“I don’t know,” she said, when she could.

“You should figure it out,” Murphy said.

Murphy shifted slightly. Had she pressed her hips back against Kevyn’s? Was it an invitation? Or just a coincidence as Murphy tried to get more comfortable on the lumpy, old mattress?

Under her hand, she could feel the soft thumpthump of Murphy’s heart, and her breathing, belly tense but not quite quivering.

Waiting to see what Kevyn would do.


In the morning, Sir Reginald was gone. He’d left his coat behind, spread out over the folded blankets he’d been using as a mattress, as if he’d slipped out from under it without disturbing it.

The strange, old raccoon, Albert, was sitting at the bar, packing something that definitely didn’t smell like tobacco into a pipe, when Kevyn and Murphy found their way out of the back room.

“Your shirt’s on backward,” he said.

“It is?” Murphy glanced at the inside of her collar.

“No, no, the new girl. Kevyn.”

“Woman,” Kevyn said, but she blushed. As if someone with a raccoon’s nose couldn’t tell exactly what they’d done the night before, and again that morning, without needing to see their disheveled clothes or hair.

That is, if they hadn’t kept both Albert and Sir Reginald awake half the night. They’d tried to be as quiet as possible. Murphy didn’t remember making any noise, at least.

It was cute, Murphy decided. As a prison guard, she’d seen enough that it seemed just human nature: people in close spaces made do with the sort of privacy created by people looking the other way. She’d had the responsibility of having to judge consent before looking away, so she’d seen plenty.

Enough, apparently, that Kevyn hadn’t noticed her lack of experience. Or at least, hadn’t commented on it.

“Where’d Sir Reginald go?” Murphy asked.

Albert shrugged. “I stopped asking that question years ago.”

“Well, when will he be back, then?”

“That question, too.”

“The real question,” Kevyn said, “is what do we do now?”

Albert handed the pipe to her.

“My recommendation is that we get properly stoned.”

He passed her his lighter.

“Seriously?” she said. But she put the pipe to her lips and touched the flame to it. “Stupidest idea I’ve ever heard,” she said, in a cloud of smoke.

She held the pipe out to Murphy.

Murphy shook her head. “They do random drug testing at…” Work? There was no work. She had no job, and didn’t have to get drug tested, not unless they got caught. And then she’d be on the other side of the bars, and it wouldn’t really matter. “Shit. Give me that.”

Albert giggled. “Now that’s the Murph I know and love.”

They passed the pipe around a couple times, until Murphy felt the edges of her brain go fuzzy. Time to stop. Fuzzy on the edges was just the right brainspace to focus on the center. On what was important.

“No more for me,” she said. She slid off her barstool and headed for the back room. She couldn’t resist running her fingers through Kevyn’s hair as she passed, and trailing them down the back of her neck.

Kevyn’s breath caught, and she moved as if to follow, but Murphy shook her head.

“Bathroom break,” she said.

She needed a place to be alone, and think.

Kudzu, Chapter 48


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Kudzu, a Novel

Chapter 48


“All right,” Ash said, “when I said ‘you can say that again’? That didn’t mean you could say it again.”

Slim looked up at him with that stupid raccoon smile. “Then why’d you say it?”

“Say what?” a voice said from the other side the chamber.


Slim bounded across the ossuary, heedless of the braided bones that clattered underfoot.

Ash followed more hesitantly. The room was a maze of alabaster structures, and the floor itself was series of bone foot-bridges raised a bit above the natural floor of kudzu vines. The bones were too small to be human. Ash guessed they were cat legs or something, woven into a sort of carpet with kudzu creepers, and then suspended over the natural floor with what he hoped were thicker vines.

Someone clearly had too much time on her hands.

Colleen knelt down to hug Slim as he dashed toward her, but seemed to get distracted, glancing up just as Slim reached her. The two of them went down in a tumble of fur and limbs.

She’d just seen the centerpiece of the ossuary, Ash figured. The display of human skulls was a grim reminder that they were all skating just ahead of death, and had been for the past sixty-five years. And death didn’t care who you were, or how old you were. With Ash’s luck, lately, old fart Jaworsky’d outlive the lot of them.

Ash stepped out onto the macabre footbridge. The bones shifted under his feet and Ash froze. His stomach lurched. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply through his nose, and when his gut calmed, he tried again.

And tasted acid.

He stepped back quickly, off the bone bridge and onto solid kudzu.

“I’ll, uh, I’ll wait over here.”


Michael’s voice. Ash could see his head visible over the elaborate bone structures, standing in the doorway on the other side of the chamber. Asshole. Didn’t see him rushing out into the middle of the ossuary, either.

Still, it was a bad way to start a reunion. He bit back the retort half-formed on his lips. It tasted like venom as he swallowed it.

“Guilty as charged,” he said.

“There’s a surprise,” Michael said.

“Fuck you,” Slim snapped, finally untangled from Colleen’s limbs. “That chickenshit went space-walking without a tether to save my life, so you got something to say to him? You say it to my face first.”

Slim was turned toward Michael, and Ash couldn’t see his face. But he could imagine it. Stupidly, he felt tears fill his eyes. He turned away and brushed them away with his sleeve.

He heard movement behind him, the clatter of bone against bone under a tentative tread. He flinched at Michael’s hand on his shoulder.

“I’m sorry,” Michael said.

Ash searched his face for any hint of sarcasm. He found none. He nodded.


Michael squeezed his shoulder and let go.

“Yeah, so I seriously hope they’re all coming this way,” he said with a shudder, “because I sure as hell don’t want walk back out into that shit.”


Amelia left her space suit out in the hallway.

Without power, the interior of Beagle, shielded from the Sun’s rays by the bulk of the kudzu plant and the shadow of the Earth, was getting a bit chilly. But she’d been in contact with the hand-things while wearing it, and there were enough metals and polymers in the suit that she had to assume it was infected.

Because that’s what it was. She was sure of it. Some sort of non-organic infection, or colonization, that had gotten into the ship somehow. They’d probably picked it up around Triton, or maybe even on the way out. And now they’d brought it back with them.

“So, what do you see?” Susan’s voice came from the other side of the med-lab door, from the radio in her suit.

“It looks okay,” Amelia shouted. “No sign of infestation up here.”

“Good. Grab what we need and get your ass back here.”

But it wasn’t that easy. The medical equipment they needed to treat Jaworsky, and possibly any other survivors for as long as they were stuck up here, was prime feeding material for the creatures that had taken over the ship. From what she could see, the more intricate and delicate the instrumentation, the more easily it was subsumed into the creatures’ internal structures. And medical devices were the very definition of intricate and delicate.

And of course, she was working in the dark.

She was wearing her goggles, of course. She prayed they weren’t infected. Or if they were, that she could keep from transferring the infection to the equipment.

Some of it, of course, was already packaged and sterile. The equipment that wasn’t, she wrapped first in gauze, then plastic. It all went into two large plastic bags, which Amelia then wrapped in several layers of cotton sheets. Enough, she hoped, to create a physical barrier against both macro and microscopic versions of the Jaworsky-hand things.

“I’m leaving my suit behind,” she told Susan, who protested. “Too great a chance of infection,” she continued. “We need the meds more than we need my suit. I hope.”

Climbing with the two large packs presented a more significant problem than she’d expected. Together, they were more than twice her mass. She ended up going back for another bedsheet, which she tore into strips to weave into improvised ropes. Then, with the bags attached to loops that went over her shoulders and chest, and strapped to her hips, she started to climb.

Thankfully, it became easier as she progressed. She was able to launch herself up past spots of obvious Jaworsky-hand infection, catching herself on rungs like an acrobat in the low gravity. By the time she got back to Susan and Jaworsky, she was mostly recovered from the exertion at the beginning of her climb.

“Ditch the suit,” she said to Susan. “Jaworsky’s, too. I don’t want anything infecting this stuff. It may be the only medical gear we have for a long time.”

“Gotcha,” Susan said. She stripped off her suit and began pulling off Jaworsky’s.

Amelia frowned at Susan. “Get rid of anything metal. Belt buckles. Zippers. Buttons.”

“What? You mean, take my pants off?”

Amelia nodded.

“What about your hat?”

Amelia pulled off her hat. She sighed, then threw it deep into the depths of the Beagle.

“That’s my favorite hat,” she said.

Once they had created as close to a sterile environment as they could, they unpacked what they needed.

“The I.V. won’t work without gravity,” Susan said. “We need either gravity or power for the pump, or it won’t work.”

“Let’s get the stump cauterized first, so we can get the tourniquet off him. Afterwards, maybe I can rewire things so we can get the pump working.”

Susan examined the cautery tool and took a deep breath. She looked pale. “Okay,” she said.

The end of the tool heated until it glowed red. Susan lined it up with one of the torn arteries in Jaworsky’s stump. She closed her eyes as she pressed the heated metal to the wound. The stench of cooking meat filled the air.

“Oh, God,” Susan said. She swallowed bile.

“No puking,” Amelia said. “Remember, puke and zero-G don’t mix.”

“Fucking hell, I missed the vein. I…”

“Give me that,” Amelia said.

Susan nodded faintly. “I think I need to sit down.”

You do that, Amelia thought. She cupped Jaworsky’s elbow under her foreleg to hold the stump still, and pressed the metal to the vein.

“Mmmm, bacon,” she said.

“Fuck,” Susan said, her voice weak. Then she was scrambling away from the improvised surgery, rustling through the foliage beyond the air lock door. Amelia could hear her heaving.

“That was for you, ya big lunk,” Amelia said to Jaworsky. “Now you got no choice but to wake up, so I can tell you all about it.”


Eric Tharp was rotating slowly in the air. It was a slow rotation, maybe a couple hours for a complete rotation. He’d turned enough now that he could see the massive dent the Beagle had made in the giant chamber, and the wide open docking bay.

There was a sudden spew from the docking bay of what looked to Tharp to be small particles — gravel, or rocks, or something. Like there had been an explosion inside that expelled shrapnel through the air lock.

The chamber was so big it was hard to get a sense of scale. It probably wasn’t gravel. It was probably a lot bigger, but he was too far to see what it was.

Whatever had just happened, it was now more certain than ever that Susan and Jaworsky and Amelia were dead, and he was drifting alone with his guilt. At least until Michael and the others rescued him.

An hour later, he was facing the other direction, and drifted into a more humid pocket of air. Moisture beaded up on his suit, and on the glass of his helmet.

He licked off what had accumulated, quenching a thirst he’d been unaware of.

Hopefully there would be more humidity. There was no telling how long he’d be floating there.

End of Book VI

Yesterday, I Will


Once upon a time, I wrote a story for a writing contest. The theme was that every story had to have the same title; how we interpreted it was up to us. So I wrote a story. I sent it in. I never heard anything back. Some time later, I ran into one of the judges and asked him about it. “Oh, that one,” he said. “We couldn’t figure out how to read it. Sorry. Maybe if it came with reading instructions?”

Somewhere in the madness of getting a new car 2 weeks back, I managed to get tick-bit. Last week was a haze of flu-like symptoms, fevers, aching joints, and a headache that let me get pretty much nothing creative done.

So instead of Kudzu, you’ll get that contest story. I trust y’all are clever enough to figure out how to read it.

Yesterday, I Will

by Bernie Mojzes

Yesterday, I will be brave.

It was a suicide mission from the start. I knew that. We all knew that. But what other options were there?

These are the times that try men’s souls, as they say.

I’d met Sergeant Myers’ squad in the city. They were pinned down by warbot fire from two directions. One soldier was pressed into a doorway. The others were trapped behind two cars.

I’d been doing what I could against the mechanistic monstrosities, with what little I had at my disposal. Saving the soldiers meant giving up every advantage I’d cobbled together since the invasion started, but I couldn’t just sit back and watch them die.

I kamikazed my Hummer right into the cluster of warbots, jumping out at the last minute. The pavement ripped at my clothes and skinned my knees, but it was a small price to pay. I clutched my only other significant asset to my chest as I rolled. It would be needed in a minute.

It worked like a dream. The warbots turned and fired at the Hummer, and the gas tank blew just as it plowed through them.

Time to pin down the other side. I got to my knees and lifted the rocket launcher to my shoulder. This wouldn’t stop them, but it might hold them off long enough to get the squad to safety.

One of the bots exploded. Two others spun crazily, damaged by the blast.

The squad hefted their payload and we ran for their ship.

They were pulling out, leaving us behind. Not that there were many of us left. The warbots had seen to that. Alliance ships had come in, guns blazing, blasting the bots to pieces.

But it was too little too late. There wasn’t much left to save, and what victories they’d had were sure to be short-lived.

I ran as fast as I could and launched myself at the hatch of the nearest ship as it was lifting off.

“Don’t leave me!” I begged. “Please don’t leave me behind!”

A big guy with a shaved head pointed his blaster at my face, and I almost let go. But the warbots were swarming behind us.

“Let go so we can take off,” he said.

“Please!” I cried. “I don’t wanna die!”

Another soldier pushed the first one aside and extended a massive hand. It engulfed my whole arm, and he pulled me into the ship like a sack of flour. The hatch shut and the shields went up. Something sizzled. It was the sound of the warbot’s weaponry disintegrating against the shields.

“Get us out of here,” called the soldier who had pulled me in, “before they bring in the heavy artillery.” My stomach pitched queasily as we lifted and swerved. He turned to me. “You,” he said. “Keep quiet and stay out of the way, or I’ll personally drop you out of this boat.”

I nodded and hugged myself. Below us, the bots were destroying everything. A second slower, and I’d have been one more statistic.

Yesterday, I will be cool. And collected.

Sergeant Myers was a brutally effective man. He’d lost half his men, including his commanding officer, retrieving the EMP bomb. Even so, once I’d sprung them from the trap, they maintained excellent discipline, and left a swath of burning and shattered warbots in their wake.

When we got to the ship, Myers turned to me. “I know you can fire a gun,” he said, “but can you follow orders?”

“Yes, sir,” I said. I even saluted.

“Then you’re drafted. Get on and let’s get the hell out of here.”

The assault on The Citadel was brutal. In the future, it will certainly be compared with the D-Day invasion, or the Charge of the Light Brigade, or the Battle of Thermopylae. We flung ourselves at The Citadel’s defenses, thousands of light airships, each with a squad of brave soldiers and an EMP bomb.

We were Army, and Marines, and Navy, and Air Force. We were American and Russian and Chinese and Israeli and Syrian. For the first time in the history of the world, all of us working and fighting together. And one by one, airbots and anti-aircraft rockets took us out.

And then it happened — the one thing nobody had expected. The one thing that nobody had even dreamed possible.

The Citadel turned on its defensive grid: the plasma shield that DOD engineers had determined physically impossible a decade ago.

I don’t know how many ships disintegrated immediately, or how many weren’t able to change course fast enough to avoid the plasma field. We were lucky. We were inside the thing when it went on.

Just a little too close.

It ripped our ship open and we dropped like a rock.

I don’t know how she did it, but our pilot was able to get a little bit of control back before we hit the ground. If there’s anyone who deserves a medal, it’s Mladshiy Leytenant Tosha Federov.

I wish I could thank her personally. But when I regained consciousness, there were only two of us left alive.

And Sergeant Myers only lived long enough to explain how the EMP bomb worked, and what needed to be done.

It was chaos. I didn’t understand what was happening. The sergeant barked orders. Everyone scurried to obey. They strapped a large, metal box down to the floor and prepared their weapons.

I kept my head down and tried my best to be invisible.

And then the shooting started. The ship bucked and spun, and things exploded all around us. On the screens I could see other ships like ours, all weaving to avoid rockets from the ground, and fire from the airbots.

Something exploded very near us, and suddenly I was looking right out at the open air. I was covered in something hot and wet. Pieces of one of the soldiers hung from his harness. I didn’t want to know where the rest of him was.

We dropped fast. I guess that’s what saved us.

A loud electric hum filled the air, and then there were explosions. Hundreds of them.

Through it all, we dropped like a rock. Anything that wasn’t tied down flew up in the air, and then was sucked out through the hole in the hull. I was certain we were going to die. But at the last minute the pilot managed to regain some control.

I heard the engines roar, and everything became heavier than I could imagine. I couldn’t even swallow, I was so heavy. That’s probably what kept me from throwing up.

And then there were trees whipping past us. I watched them through the hole in the side of the ship.

A constant stream of curses in Russian and English came from the cockpit. The engines screamed, and the wind was louder than anything I’d ever heard.

Then there were buildings whipping past us. The screaming got louder.

And then I realized that the Sergeant had his pistol aimed at my face.

“Shut up!” he was yelling. “Shut the hell up or I swear to God I’ll shoot you!”

The screaming was me.

I don’t know if he’d really have shot me. One of the wings touched something, and then we were spinning like a top. And that’s how we hit the ground.

It’s a miracle we all lived.

Yesterday, I will be strong.

The EMP bomb was heavy, but built for mobility. Most of the weight was batteries, massively powerful and designed to discharge completely with devastating results. About the size of a large dog crate, it weighed maybe five hundred pounds, but it had six hydro-pneumatic wheels that kept the thing rolling smoothly and level even when going over uneven surfaces, like debris, or stairs.

I wrestled the thing out of its harness and got it out of what was left of the ship.

I took only a few steps with it before realizing that the thing was too unwieldy to handle alone. I was in enemy territory, all alone, surrounded by hostile warbots. I was well-armed — I had salvaged two pistols, a half-dozen grenades, and three blasters with explosive rocket-propelled ammo — but none of it would do me a damn bit of good if it wasn’t in my hand when the warbots attacked.

It was a longest fifteen minutes of my life. I worked feverishly, scavenging seat harnesses, cable and pieces of metal. All the while listening for the inevitable mechanical whir of impending death. I used a headrest to brace against my hips, and when I was done, I was able to hold a blaster in my hands while pushing the bomb along. If I needed to steer it, I could pull on the cables that I’d attached to the front end, left or right.

I could scarcely breathe as I made my way up Hagood Avenue toward the thing that had grown out of Summerall Field. Warbots could be anywhere, behind any abandoned car, inside any building, on any rooftop. They could come at me from any direction. I didn’t dare blink.

In retrospect, carrying the gun at that point was pointless. I was in the open, indefensible. One shot and they’d swarm.

That’s what they do.

They swarm, and they kill everything that breathes.

And now that the defense grid had been activated, I was the only person in the world who could do anything about it.

The fate of the world was on my shoulders.

With slippery palms, I made my way to the Hagood Gate.

Move, move, move!

Sergeant Myers slapped us all out of our stupor. My head was still spinning as I stumbled out of the wreckage. I fell to my knees and lost the contents of my stomach.

The sergeant kicked me. “Get the hell out of the way!”

Two of the soldiers were dragging the big box out of the ship. It hissed when they put it down. The other soldier helped the pilot out of the cockpit. There was blood on her uniform and she gritted her teeth in pain.

The sergeant frowned when he saw her.

“Leave me,” the pilot said. “There is no time.”

I saw that her left hand had been crushed, and her left ankle was bent at an odd angle. A lot of blood was spurting from a gash in her calf.

The sergeant’s face was stony. “Taylor, you’re on triage.” The soldier who had first waved a gun at me nodded. Myers turned to me. “You, whatever your name is, you stay with Taylor and Federov, and when she’s able to move, you help her walk. Follow us and provide support. Elkins and Oh, you’re with me.”

The three of them took the box and moved down the street at a jog. One of them pushed the box. The other two had their blasters drawn and were scanning for warbots. They headed toward the large building at the end of the road, and soon they vanished from sight.

I waited to hear the sound of gunfire, but it never came.

Taylor worked quickly. He cut the pilot’s pant leg off, then tied a bandage tightly above her knee, using a metal rod to tighten it until the blood stopped flowing. He put a bandage on the wound, and then apologized to the pilot. Then he straightened her foot.

I threw up again.

When I was done, Federov’s leg had been splinted, and she was up on her other foot, leaning heavily on Taylor. Her face was ashen.

“C’mon, boy,” Taylor said. “Time to earn your keep.”

Yesterday, I will be fast.

There are only two ways into The Citadel. Electric fences and mines ring the former military college, and motion sensors tethered to automated gunnery towers dissuade casual intrusion. And that was before The Citadel declared war on its creators. The defenses are certainly stronger — and more deadly — now.

The Hagood Gate stood closed, and lasers dotted my chest and head as I approached. One false move and I was dead.

Lacking the force to overwhelm the Gate, I had very few options left. So I followed Sergeant Myers’ final orders.

I emptied the Sergeant’s forms of ID from my pack and made sure every piece was in order. I fed Sergeant Myers’ military ID into the machine. Then, when I was prompted, I held his head up and pressed his open eye to the retinal scanner. I held my breath while it processed.

The Gate opened.

I hardly believed my luck. I’d been so shocked and appalled by Sergeant Myers’ order to take his head with me that I’d almost disobeyed. But I’d made a promise, back when I joined the squad.

An oath.

I would follow orders.

No matter what.

And it saved my life.

“It’s a different system,” Sergeant Myers had said. “Complexity created a monster determined to destroy us, but that same complexity means that there’s systems that it isn’t fully aware of.

I walked through the Hagood Gate as if I belonged there.

I put Sergeant Myers’ head back in my pack, just in case, and headed toward The Citadel, rising like a pewter pyramid from the middle of campus.

I made it there without incident.

It was only once I was inside that things started getting difficult.

The pilot was heavier than she looked. She couldn’t put any weight at all on her left foot, and couldn’t even hold on to my shoulder to support herself. It took a little while to get a rhythm going, but once we did, we got so we could move at a moderate hobble.

Taylor went ahead of us, scanning the buildings and bushes and cars. Nothing. Eventually, we reached the Hagood Gate.

The Gate was closed, and all three of us stood, targeted, in its yawning maw.

Taylor dug in his pocket and produced his military ID. “This had better work,” he muttered, as he fed it into gate. The screen asked for him to set his eye to the sensor. Then it authorized him. He fed it Federov’s ID, and mine, and told the Gate we had temporary visitation permits.

It spat out day passes, and opened.

We hurried through, before it could change its mind.

We were close, now, and we had reason to believe that the rest of the team had made it this far as well. “We’d have found the bomb,” Taylor said. “The casing is nano proof.”

We were halfway to The Citadel itself, rising like a pewter pyramid from the middle of campus, when we heard gunfire. It was muffled, as if it was coming from inside, but unmistakeable.

“Hurry!” Taylor gestured impatiently. “We’ve got to help them.”

Federov did her best, even though each fevered step brought tears to her eyes and a whimper to her lips. But she didn’t complain.

“I can’t go any faster, goddamn it,” I said.

Taylor turned to look at me. He opened his mouth to say something. And then he was hit.

The nanoshot splattered on his hip and spread its pseudopods over him as it began to disassemble him.

He didn’t scream. Not yet. Instead, he fired at the things that had killed him. I heard bullets penetrate metal.

“Run,” Taylor said, agony etched into his face. “Now!”

I let go of the pilot and ran.

Yesterday, I will be smart.

The doorway to The Citadel was open.

I didn’t hesitate.

But I was cautious. I watched for traps, for hidden doors, and for ambush.

It wasn’t long in coming.

Three warbots blocked the path to the core datacenter. They fired as soon as the EMP bomb came into view. Two of the shots hit the wall. One hit the EMP casing and slid harmlessly off, neutralized by the casing’s antibots.

I tossed a grenade around the corner, and when the echoes faded, there was silence. All three warbots had been destroyed.

That was when the real fun started.

They gathered in front of me.

When one blaster emptied, I grabbed another from the makeshift holster I’d built into the harness.

I dodged the nanoshot, and returned fire. And one by one they fell.

I used the EMP’s casing as cover, and returned fire. And one by one they fell.

I pushed my way down one hallway after another. Down one staircase after another. Deeper into the heart of The Citadel.

And still the warbots came.

And still they fell.

I ran out of grenades. I emptied all the blasters. I held them off with a pistol while I reloaded the blasters, and then kept going.

And then Sergeant Myers saved my life one last time.

Warbots had snuck up behind me.

The nanoshot hit me in the back and started to spread its corrosive tendrils. But it hit my pack, the one that I carried because Sergeant Myers ordered me to, and I was able to shrug out of it before the goo reached me. By the time I dispatched my attackers, Sergeant Myers’ head was gone, reduced to its component molecules.

After that, there was no more time to play it safe. The warbots were ahead of me, and they were behind me. I had no choice but to run, spraying bullets in front of me, and praying I didn’t miss.

And then, suddenly, almost anticlimactically, I was there.

The doorway to The Citadel was open. I didn’t hesitate. Ahead of me was the sound of gunfire. Behind me the warbots were swarming.

Taylor had stopped screaming. I could imagine the shapeless lump of his body lying on the pavement as the nanobots took him apart. I’d seen it back home enough times. It was like a super-accelerated cancer. It was like dropping someone in a vat of bleach.

Federov was still screaming.

Some things you never get used to, no matter how many times you hear them.

I followed the sounds of gunfire, down the hall, down an escalator that was pointlessly still running, and further. I came across shattered warbots, smoking ruins of machines that twitched on the floor.

Nano-goo was everywhere. There was nano-goo on the walls, and some on the floors. I was very careful not to touch any of it.

Still I ran, and I prayed that Myers had been thorough as he pushed his way through the Citadel’s defenses.

Then the shooting stopped.

I stopped short, waiting. Listening.


No shots. But also no screams.

I risked a shout. “Myers? You there?”

“Yeah. Follow the wreckage and you’ll find us. You sound close enough. We’ll wait for you.”

I found them in less than five minutes.

“Where’s Taylor and Federov?” Myers grabbed me by the shirt and shook me. “Damn it, where are they?”

“It’s not my fault,” I said.

Myers cursed at me and threw me to the floor. And then the nanoshot hit him, right in the face. In a second, it had wrapped its tendrils around his head. He couldn’t even scream.

I grabbed the gun he dropped in front of me and started firing down the hall along with the others. When the warbots were finished, we could look at Myers again. He writhed on the floor soundlessly, until one of the soldiers put a bullet in his head.

“You led them here,” she said. “You killed him.”

Yesterday, I will be a hero.

This was it. The core datacenter.

The mind of the The Citadel.

The heart of the doomsday device that was destroying life on Earth.

It was loud.

The air thrummed with electricity. With power. The war song of a hundred thousand processors, singing the death of billions.

The dream of armageddon, spelled out in lights that blinked across a hundred surfaces, across monitors that drew graphs and charts that no human would ever see: the mapping of the destruction of the world.

I pushed the EMP bomb into the datacenter and started to pull the casing off.

Another group of warbots struck. Nano-goo slid harmlessly off the casing. I fired back and took out both warbots.

After that, it was just a matter of remembering the arming process. It took a couple of tries. It seemed like an eternity had passed since Sergeant Myers whispered the instructions with his dying breath, and I prayed that I remembered all the steps, but finally, it was set up.

This was it.

Warbots were rolling down the hallway toward me. My gun was empty. I was out of ammo.

I got hit in the leg.

I’d wanted to say something poetic, something inspired. Something for the history books.

Something that future generations could look back on, and remember why our future can only come from cooperation, not conflict.

But the nanobots started eating my flesh, and I screamed the first thing that came to mind.

“Die, you evil, fucking, bastard! Die!”

I pushed the button.

As the ranking officer, Private First Class Tammy Elkins took the lead. She ordered me to push the box, while Oh watched the rear.

I wrestled with the box. I didn’t want to. I wanted to crawl into a hole and hide, but Elkins aimed her gun at my head.

“You killed Myers,” she said. “The only reason you’re still alive right now is that you might be useful.”

There were a few more firefights, all of which we won. None of us got hit.

And then we were there.

We pushed the box into the datacenter. Elkins and Oh pulled the casing off the bomb and started setting it up.

I took the opportunity to slip back out of the datacenter. I’d seen a good hiding place just down the hall, and I took advantage of it. And when the warbots rolled down the hall, I pressed harder into my nook. Elkins and Oh were soldiers. Trained professionals. They would hear the warbots coming. The best I could do was try to keep out of the crossfire.

But the datacenter was loud.

And when I heard the screaming start, I moved.

It wasn’t bravery that got me moving, or anger, or a sense of vengeance. It was fear. I was alone, and the people who were my only chance of living were turning into molten puddles on the floor.

I emptied Myers’ gun at the warbots in the datacenter. They smoked and burst and fell over. I could hear more warbots coming down the hall. Coming for me.

I ran into the datacenter. Nanoshot whizzed past my head.

The bomb was there. Armed. All I had to do was push a button.

Nano-goo wrapped around my knee. My pants leg dissolved, and the pain began.

I pushed the button.

The thump pushed through my body and left me breathless and tingling.

The lights went out. The sounds of machinery stopped. The nanobots dripped harmlessly down my leg. Deep in the heart of The Citadel, there was, for the first time in my life, true silence, and true darkness.

The Electro-Magnetic Pulse disrupts power. It fries processors. It scrambles circuits. It wipes hard drives, erases backup tapes. It destroys data. It kills computers.

It devours the past.

They say that it doesn’t affect people. But that’s not true.

It changes everything.

Alas, no Kudzu today. But instead…

Well, there’s no kudzu today. Sorry. It’s been one of those weeks. You see, my car committed suicide.

It started with a check engine light. I drive a Scion XB – basically, a purple toaster on wheels. Drove, that is. The check engine light turned out to be a “emissions evaporation leak(small)” – which means it’s a pinhole somewhere in the parts of the car that exists between the gas cap and the engine and out to the exhaust pipe.

I was debating on whether to get that fixed or start looking for a new car sometime before inspection was due in November when it rained in my car. Yes, the windows were up. Yes, everything was closed. And yet it rained. Boxes of books were ruined. The floor became wet, and stayed wet, and with temperatures at a humid 80+ degrees, it wasn’t long before my car smelled like a locker room.

The following day, one of my tires went flat.

Fuck it, I said, I’m not putting a new tire on this car. I had until the donut spare tire died to find a new car.

While I was driving from dealer to dealer, the transmission started to fail.

So, with all the driving around and such, I had neither time nor brainspace to write. So there is no Kudzu today. But there is this:


Oh. And one more thing. Not all of last week was wasted. Some of you may have noticed that Sir Reginald sponsors a certain Journal of Unlikely Entomology, which is now in its third year of publication. Well, we’re increasing our pay rates and broadening our horizons, with Unlikely Story and the The Journal of Unlikely Cryptography. Good things to come and all that. 🙂

See you next week, when we return to our fateful characters as they muddle through the ossuary of doom.


Kudzu, Chapter 47


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Kudzu, a Novel

Chapter 47


It was one of the Jaworsky-hands. Even in the darkness at the edge of her light, Amelia was sure of that. It hadn’t noticed her, though, so she crept closer, as quietly as she could.

Yes, definitely one of the hands. It was facing away from her, supported by three jointed finger-legs. Its eyestalks were focused on whatever its other two fingers were doing. Its long tail was curled around its body, and seemed to be gathering bits of material and scooping it in front of the hand.

Amelia didn’t dare move any closer, for fear of spooking it. After all, she was the shucker of Jaworsky-hands, and she didn’t know how far that knowledge had distributed among these creatures. Instead, she pulled the goggles on her aviator cap down over her eyes.

Yes, Amelia loved her hats. She’d collected dozens in the few years she had before they shipped out. Yes, they were fabulous and decorative. But they weren’t just fabulously decorative. They were also fabulously useful. At least in the case of her favorite hat — her aviator cap.

She increased the magnification on the goggles until the Jaworsky-hand came into focus, and increased the light-enhancement. It wasn’t quite the same as seeing things under normal lights — colors were still muted, and unless she went overboard on the brightening, which just made everything look blown out, it was just a less dark version of dusk.

But enough to see details.

The Jaworsky-hand was perched on an open control panel, surrounded by dials and digital displays, knobs and switches and buttons. The open panel exposed a number of circuit boards.

The circuit boards were crawling with worms.

No. Not worms. Little bits of circuitry. Transistors. Resistors. Microchips of various sizes, and the busses and cables that ran between them. They were all alive, and moving.

It wasn’t just them, either. It was also bits of silicon, plastic keys, LED lights. The whole damn control panel was crawling with worms made out of itself.

And the Jaworsky-hand?

It was scooping the worms together, pressing them into each other until they mated and merged. Forming a shape.

Teaching the things how to become something bigger, more mobile.

Turning them into another hand.

As Amelia watched, more bits of plastic and metal fell away from the structure of the control panel to become more worms. More inanimate matter became animate.

Amelia turned on her radio.

“Susan, we’ve got a bigger problem than we thought.”


The Ossuary.

Slim hadn’t been able to bring himself to ask the cat lady why there was an ossuary. Or exactly how she had managed to construct it.

Or where she had gotten the bones.

He paced circles around Ash.

“Cut it out,” Ash said. “You’re making me nervous.”

“It makes me nervous that we don’t know a damned thing about the cat lady, or why she’s here, or why…”

“Look, we should just be glad she was here to save us from the kudzu.”

“Which I’d gotten most of the way free of before she showed up.”

“‘Oh, it bit me,'” Ash mimed. He waved his hands in the air. “I remember a lot of screaming.”

“That was you. And it did bite me.” Slim pointed to his bandaged leg. “And just because you just got laid for the first time in… for the first time, doesn’t mean that you can just trust her. I mean, the ossuary, for fuck’s sake. Who does that?”

“You’re exaggerating. And it wasn’t my first time.”

“I’m not. I’m telling you, she has a room filled with bones. A big room. I saw it, while you were playing grateful man-whore for our hostess.”

“A graveyard, you mean. And you should know better than to wander off alone.”

“I should’a just sat there and watched you two monkeys go at it? I hate to break it to you, but you primates ain’t exactly the sexiest creatures out there. The only reason I came back so fast was after seeing the bones, I wanted to make sure all that screaming I heard wasn’t you being dismembered.”

Ash reddened. “Yeah, right. So show me the spooky bones.”

Slim led the way through the twisting corridors, pointing out the important landmarks. “Toilet’s through there,” and “Down that tunnel on the left is a kitchen. I think it used to be part of a space station. The refrigerator is full of fish.”

After about twenty minutes’ walk, the winding tunnel widened and ended. A large iris-portal dominated the wall.

“This is it,” Slim said. He stepped out of the way and nudged Ash forward. “You go first.”

Ash pressed his palm against the twisted vines, and they slid against each other, opening to a large, dimly lit chamber.

Ash took step, then stopped.

There were bones. Lots of them. Piles of them. Towers and ziggurats reaching for the ceiling. Statues built of bones tied together with dried kudzu vine and tendons. Bones hung from above in macabre mobiles. Something that looked uncomfortably like an altar constructed entirely of bone filled the middle of the room.

Most of the bones came from cats and fish.

Not all of them. On a backdrop woven from of hundreds of thousands of fish ribs, four adult human skulls framed another, that of a child.


“Are his bones in there, too?” Slim said. He sat down Ash’s foot. “Wouldn’t surprise me. But then, I got bit by a plant, so not much surprises me anymore.”

“This isn’t the time for jokes,” Ash said. “Some day that’ll be us up there.”

“Gotta get your laughs where you can, when you can,” Slim said. “While you still can.”

“Yeah,” Ash said. “You can say that again.”

Kudzu, Chapter 46


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Kudzu, a Novel

Chapter 46


Susan heard a voice screaming as the disembodied mechanical hands surged over every surface, scuttling like angry scorpions over Jaworsky’s inert body, fingers clicking, tails thrashing. Toward her. When the glass of her helmet fogged up with spittle and breath, she realized the voice she was hearing was hers.

What she wasn’t hearing was Amelia.

The onrushing wave of Jaworsky-hands swept toward her, filling her vision with wriggling mechanical digits and metal palms. She closed her eyes and imagined them tearing at her, ripping first through her suit, then through her skin, tearing the flesh from her body in finger food sized strips.

And then they were on her, slapping against her, crawling over her feet and legs, swarming over her body.

Susan clenched her jaw against the anticipated pain, but it never came. Just the sensation of hundreds of spiders scampering over her, around her, pushing off against her back as they launched themselves through the open door.

“‘Melia?” she asked. Amelia didn’t respond, but now that Susan had stopped screaming, she could hear Amelia’s breath in her earpiece, rapid and panicked.

Susan swiped two of the hands off the faceplate of her helmet, brushed more off her shoulders. There were fewer of the things now, the torrent of mechanical creatures slowing to a stream.

Amelia was curled into a ball, spinning slowly in the air.

Susan shifted Jaworsky’s body out of the way. He spun slowly and drifted away from the doorway.


She looked so small. So very small.

There were only a few dozens of the Jaworsky-hands now, still coming out of the darkness of the ship. They skittered across the walls and out the door, escaping into the verdant green of the kudzu satellite.

Susan reached for Amelia, pulled her close. Wrapped arms around her. Susan could feel Amelia’s tiny body trembling through the fabric of her suit.

“Are you hurt? ‘Melia, take a deep breath. Are you hurt?”


Amelia shifted in Susan’s arms.

“I don’t think so.” Amelia straightened, turning until Susan could see her face. Her eyes were red-rimmed, and there was a bit of froth flecking her lips. “I thought they were coming for me. Because I killed two of them.”

“I think they sacrificed two of them so we could open the door for them,” Susan said. “Other than that, I don’t think they care about us one way or another. I’m not even sure they recognize us as sentient.”

Amelia glanced at the two split-shelled hands wired into the circuit board.

“I think maybe they do,” she said. “How’s Jaworsky?”

Jaworsky had floated off into the darkness. They could see the shadow of his form turning slowly in the gravity-free chamber.

“Fuck, I forgot about Jaworsky.”

Susan clomped on magnetic shoes toward him. He floated just out of her reach.

“Hold me out,” Amelia suggested.

She stretched out at the end of Susan’s reach and managed to get ahold of Jaworsky’s foot with both forepaws.

“Got him,” she said. “Pull us in slowly.”

Jaworsky was still breathing, but he didn’t look good.

“We really need to deal with this now,” Susan said.

“How? I don’t think he’s strong enough to survive for any length of time in a partial vacuum.”

“I have a feeling that’s not a problem anymore,” Susan said. She shrugged and reached for her helmet. “Let’s find out.”

“No!” Amelia shouted.

Susan hesitated.

“If something goes wrong,” Amelia said, “I may not be big enough to wrestle your helmet back onto you in time. I’ll do it.”

Amelia held her breath as she unclipped her helmet. When she broke the seal, there was no puff of escaping air, which was a good sign.

She took a tentative breath, then another, before breathing in deeply.

“Well?” Susan said.

“It’s good,” Amelia said. “It tastes like life.”


Jaworsky, on the other hand, wasn’t good.

With the power out, and the elevators non-functional, there was no way Amelia and Susan could get him to the medical center. And they’d be working in the dark, anyway. At least in the doorway to what had been the docking bay there was kudzu-generated light.

Amelia scrambled through one of the coon-holes that ran parallel to the elevator shaft. As she moved, the slow spin of ship — and of the plant the ship was now part of — introduced gravity, though not as quickly or as strongly as when the Beagle had been under its own power.

Made sense, Amelia figured. The kudzu mass covered a much larger volume than the Beagle, and if you wanted to make sure your outer regions weren’t afflicted with crushing centrifugal forces, you had to reduce the rate of rotation accordingly.

Still, at some point along the trek, a human would have had to turn around not to pitch headfirst down the hole. How stupid was that?

“How did you creatures become the dominant life form, anyway?” she asked.

“Big brains,” Susan said. “Very convoluted.”

“That doesn’t help if you’re always falling on your heads. How’s Jaworsky doing?”

“Pretty much the same. The tourniquet is holding, but he lost a lot of blood. You remember the list I gave you?”

“Yeah. Bandages, antibiotics, IV fluids and needles.”

“And that sealant shit.”

Amelia shivered. She’d seen “that sealant shit” used once, when her partner on the maintenance crew had lost his legs in an accident, severed above the knees in one of the ventilation turbines, because Amelia didn’t have the mass or strength to pull him away fast enough. She’d had to apply it herself, before he bled out, even though it guaranteed that he’d lose another few centimeters of tissue if he wanted to be fitted with prosthetics. It was like foaming spray insulation, but it generated enough heat to cauterize a severe wound. She remembered the smell of burning flesh and Joe’s screams. After that, she’d worked alone.

Not that it mattered. Joe died anyway. She’d found his body still in his bed, eyes bugged out from the sudden vacuum as the explosion ripped holes in the hull. Unlike the others, she hadn’t slept the whole way back to Earth. In her waking time, she had explored the damaged ship, trying to figure out what had caused the main engines to explode.

She hadn’t been able to determine the cause, but she found the bodies. There was a notebook in one of her pouches, in which she had written down their names, and where she found them, and everything she could remember about them.

Her vision blurred suddenly, and she angrily brushed tears from her eyes. They were dead and gone. What mattered now was surviving, and making sure that everyone who was left did, too.

She focused on where she was putting her paws.

And stopped.

In the darkness at the edge of the light cast by her LED headlamp, something was moving.

Amelia held her breath, and crept forward.

This is the Tale My Father Told


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Yesterday I promised a story, even though there’s no Kudzu update to be had. So, here’s one with a bit of an odd narrative structure (and thus a difficult sell…).


This is the Tale My Father Told

by Bernie Mojzes


The air ruins it.

Otherwise, it’s not so different, here in this pitiful outpost at the furthest rim of the Empire, from the land of my birth. These hills are cold and barren, your mountains in the north even more so, and the winter wind is brutal and deadly. The sheep and goats outnumber the people, and outsmart most of them, too. The people are poor — farmers and herdsmen just trying to get through another year. Even your kings are poor. I never felt this homesick when I was in Rome, or as at home.

Except for the air. Everywhere here, it smells of brine, like the sea that batters these shores. Maybe it is different, further inland.

Put aside your sword, boy. You’ll find no threat in my home. Here, let me pour you some uisge. I wish I could offer you a proper drink, but I haven’t seen a worthwhile plum since I got here.

U Zdravje. Or as you Scoti say, Slainte Mhath.

Eh. Don’t rush me. I’m an old man and I deserve some respect, even if I am just a slave. And I have a few things yet to teach you before your overeager friends take my head.

Come, child, walk with me. Bring the bottle. Bring two.


What are you looking at, boy? The fighting’s over. You don’t want to involve yourself in what comes next. Come along, this way. Let me tell you a story while we walk.

This is a tale my father told me, an old, old story of my people. I did not understand at the time, and I am not sure that you are ready to understand. But perhaps now is the right time to tell it to you, and you will understand when you need. How did it go? Ah, yes.

A long time ago, in a kingdom very near here…

Nje. Don’t interrupt. That is how the stories of my people all start. A kingdom very near here. Maybe it is on the other side of the forest. Maybe it is on the other side of the world. But maybe with the Romans, the other side of the world is now very near here. Otherwise, we two would not be talking now, yes?

A long time ago, in a kingdom very near here, there was a great and wise king. When he was young, he was a hero, fighting many demons and dragons and other evil creatures. He was such a great hero that even great Svarog looking down from the sky noticed his deeds.

Svarog is a god of my people. You would recognize him, I think, though you would call him by a different name. But what is a name worth? The Romans say that God gave to Adam the right to name all the creatures in the world. But when has a god given a man anything of value? Not without taking something of greater value in return. Never mind the names, eh, and listen to the tale.

Svarog wished to reward the young hero for his great works, and he granted him one boon. Whatever he wished, his greatest desire: he had just to ask. But the hero had no great desires to fulfill. He had no need for riches, for he was already rich, and he had no desire for a woman to make his wife, for he had already found the girl whom he would marry. So he decided to save his wish for later, when his need might be greater.

In time, the hero became king, and he took the woman as his queen, and had two strong sons and a beautiful daughter. His kingdom was blessed with fertile lands and good weather, and soon it was the greatest and richest kingdom in the world.

Ah, but here we are, already.


They call it Hadrian’s Wall. Names again. Named it after Emperor Hadrian, who ordered it built after he met some of you folk. Wise man, some say, but he’d have been wiser if he fled back across the sea. The wall runs from here all the way across your dismal little island to Coria and the Sea in the East. They’re great builders, the Romans. The best, except for maybe the Egyptians. Did I ever tell you about the years my master was deployed to Egypt? Ah, well, then I won’t bore you with it now.

Where was I? Ah, yes. Hadrian’s Wall. It is truly a masterpiece. You people have been throwing yourselves at it for a couple hundred years, and only now have you finally breached it, now that the Empire has lost interest in these Isles. Come here, lad. Have you seen the wall from this side?

Yes, up here. Mind your step, it’s been a while since anyone’s tended the mortar, and there are more than a few stones loose. Up you go.

There. That’s your Caledonia out there, as far as the eye can see, and farther. Land of the Scoti and the painted ones, the Picts. Cold and brutal, and full of crazy, half-naked barbarians and savage, ancient gods.

And all that stands between us and them is this pitiful heap of rocks.

Yes, I said ‘us,’ for you stand here with me staring at the abyss at the edge of the Empire, and together you and I are ‘us,’ no matter the paths we took getting here, or where our paths take us tomorrow. Right now, we are here, together.

Come along, child. I’ve been your teacher these last five years, and just because you’ve killed off the man who sold your father my services doesn’t mean I’m done teaching, or that you’re done learning. Everything before was just preparation. Your real education begins today.

I was maybe your age, maybe a little younger, when my own education began. When the Huns drove us out of our village. We followed the river until we found a new place to build. Then the Huns came again, and drove us out again, right into the arms of a Roman Legion.

Nje. It’s all right. I got to see the world. I’ve seen temples built of marble as white as the purest snow, and of the blackest obsidian. I’ve seen the pyramids that rise like mammoth gods from the desert floor, older than time itself. I’ve studied in the Library in Alexandria. I met Sophia.

Ah, now there’s a story I’ve not yet told you. Her hair was black as night, and fell to her waist. She had a gap between her front two teeth that made her whistle when she spoke. Her name means Wisdom, and I was so young, and so foolish.

Here, sit. My knees are weary, and we’ve got as good a view here as anywhere else.

So tell me, boy. What do you see?

Yes, yes, of course. Luguvalium in flames. Have I taught you these five years so you can be an idiot? Then don’t tell me what any idiot can see. Tell me what you see. You’ll be king soon enough. Show me you’re worthy of it. Most people decide what is important, and then see only that. That’s backwards. See everything, then decide what is important.

Ah, yes. Better. The black rocks, wet from the melting ice. The first sprouts of spring pushing through the earth. Almost time to sow the fields. The bodies. Too many to count? When you’re king, you’ll have no choice. Yes, now is the time to mention the fire. And that building on the left? You are not seeing wrong. Your people and the surviving Britons and Romans are working together to save that building. The seed for this year’s planting is in there. If that building burns, next winter will kill more than this battle has.

And it will burn, unless they can find a way to pull the very sea to their aid.

Pass the bottle, child. There’s a cold wind come down. And you have so much to learn.

Come. This way.


If you were king, would you execute the man that set the fire that burned the storehouse?

Yes, I know he was acting on your father’s orders. Will that matter come February? Wouldn’t he then be just one more mouth to feed?

I’m not asking you what your father would do. Your father doesn’t matter.

Ah, here we are. Here’s where your men first overran the Romans. This man here, his name was Telerius. He had two wives and five children. One of them is old enough to fight, barely. Your age. He is also my student, but on the Roman side of the wall. I don’t know what’s become of him. As for the others, what will you tell them, when you are king, and winter comes? ‘We must feed our warrior who burned the seed, so you will have to starve?’ How about this man here? Don’t look away. What was his name? Faolan, yes? Your friend Tynan’s father, if this feeble, old mind does not mislead. And Faolan’s family? What happens to them now?

Do you have any idea how dependent you people have become on Roman grain?

Why do I keep asking you these questions? What did I tell you about observing everything? Didn’t you see the blood? Didn’t you see your father press his hand to his gut, and favor his right side? Could you not see Her shadow on him?

Come, boy. Tomorrow you will be king, but today you are still my student. Let us leave this spot. There’s too much blood here for my tastes. Leave this place to Her.


A great victory? Haven’t I taught you to count?

Once upon a time, the Emperor stationed a full Legion in Britain. Six thousand men. What was left guarding this post? Just over half a Century? Perhaps eighty percent of those slain. I counted forty dead Roman soldiers, and maybe a dozen held prisoner. How many Scoti died today?

There are many tales of such ‘victories.’


My story? Ah yes, my story. I almost forgot. Where was I? Hmm. Boy, dragons, king, rich. Yes, I remember.

The king ruled wisely and well for many years, and his kingdom prospered. The neighboring kingdoms, which were not so lucky, nor ruled so wisely, grew jealous. And one day, when it was least expected, they waged war.

The battle was long and bloody, but at the end the king won the day and drove the attackers away. But the king’s rejoicing was short-lived. Soon, the battalion commanded by his eldest son joined him. Their banners were lowered, and they carried the king’s son on a stretcher. He had been mortally wounded, and none could save him.

As the king grieved for his eldest son, the battalion commanded by the king’s second son returned. Their banners also were lowered, and they carried the king’s second son on a stretcher. He too had been mortally wounded, and none could save him.

The king brought his dying sons back to his castle so that the queen and his daughter could make their farewells, but as they approached, they saw smoke on the horizon. The enemy had sent a company of men to flank them and assault the castle directly. The guards had been killed, and the castle set to the torch.

The queen ran to the king as he approached. “They have killed our daughter,” she cried.

Some victory, eh?

So what happens now? You’ve taken Luguvalium, and you’ve lost half your men doing it. What happens when the Romans send a larger force to retake it?

Or what happens if they don’t? And you’re the king left here, looking back over the wall into Her realm? Remember. Anyone sitting on this side of the wall is one of ‘us,’ part of the Empire. It matters little where you came from or what your intentions were.

No, this was a war that you could never have won. The Empire is never defeated. The Empire never goes away. The Empire is eternal. Oh, Rome will abandon these isles soon enough; that much is clear even to the Romans. But you’ve lived under their shadow for hundreds of years now. The idea of the King of Kings is here, and that idea will live forever.

Empire is not like a nation. Remember this, boy. It is not a tribe, or a tribe of tribes, or a country of countries. It is a tapeworm that feeds on our minds. You’ll never be free of it. And every segment you cut out just grows to infect another victim.

Perhaps it will be the Scoti. Perhaps you yourself will unite your tribes and lead them to victory over the painted ones and the Southlands, and perhaps even across the sea. The thought has crossed your mind already, I see. Or maybe the Britons will rise up to fill that role as the Romans abdicate, and one day a great British Empire will dominate the world.

You laugh. The Roman’s slaves, become rulers of the world? But who better than a slave to learn his master’s ways?

Leave it to them, child. There’s more honor in being a slave than a slaver.


Help me down here, boy. Its time for you to meet someone. Yes, yes. Someone on ‘your’ side of the wall. I’m old, but I still have my wits about me.

Who? Heh. An old friend. A very old friend indeed.

Of course it’s not safe.

You know, the wall does look more imposing from this side. Mind you don’t step on poor Eadan there. Or Osgar.

You’re surprised that I know their names? For five years I have been visiting your people, and you think I’d not notice who is there? Slaves and kings have one thing in common — neither is ever really free. Neither has the luxury of not paying attention. An oblivious slave is a dead slave. The same is doubly true for kings.

Tell me, who was the first to fall? Ah. The horse boy. Corc. Pity. I liked him. He was always very kind to a feeble old man. Show me, child. Show me where he fell.


It is time to finish this tale, I think. Where had I left it? The daughter. Yes, the daughter had been stabbed and burned, and was dying. I told you this already, yes?

The king’s daughter lay in the rubble of the castle’s gate, in the shadow of the great arch. This was as far as the queen could drag her, away from the flames that consumed the castle. She was not yet dead, but there was no saving her.

“Look!” the people cried, and they pointed to a figure who crouched, perched atop the ruined archway, watching the king’s daughter. Waiting for her to die.


Yes, child, you are right. We are near. I can feel Her. There. Feeding.

Look at Her. Is She not terrible? Is She not beautiful?

In the land of my birth we called her Morana. You have another name for Her, I think, but it is not so very different, is it?

Tell me, child, do you pity poor Corc? Or do you envy him the honor? By tonight, tomorrow at the latest, you will wear your father’s crown. And your father? Will you give him to Her? Or will you try to save him, to give his soul to the Roman God? Will you stay here and rule, and stretch your kingdom across this island? Will you embrace Empire? Will you take up the cause of that which builds beyond reason and decays from within? Or will you go back to your sheep and your mountains, to your petty regional squabbles? Which darkness will you embrace?

My tale is not yet done. I had wanted to finish before we found Her. Please forgive an old man’s wandering wits. But I must finish. Listen.

The king stood over his dying daughter, and drew all his authority to him. “Morana, this is my kingdom, and my word is law. I forbid this.”

The Demon Goddess laughed. “You are a leaf,” she told him, “already beginning to brown, a withered flower, already gone to seed. They are mine, and in the end, so are you.”

The king heard her words and knew they were true. But his daughter lay at his feet, gasping her last breath, and his two sons lay nearby, the last of their blood draining from their wounds. He turned his eyes to the sun, and he cried out. “Svarog, you have promised me one request! I call on you to grant it now! Drive the Demon Goddess from my kingdom, and banish her from it forever!”

Svarog looked into the eyes of his old friend, and he said, “You do not want this thing. Choose something else.”

But the king’s reason had left him. “This is what I choose,” he said. “Give me my due, Lord Svarog, or be made a liar and cheat.”

Svarog blinked his great eye, and for a moment the world was black, and when it was once again light, Morana had gone.

From then on, it was always summer. Nothing died. The crops grew and grew, producing harvest after harvest, until the Earth itself grew weary. No wound would slay a man. No disease, however terrible, would kill him.

One day, the king gathered his wife to him, and his two sons and his daughter, and all of his subjects who were not too ill to walk. And he raised his eyes to the sun, and he cried, “Great Svarog, please, I was wrong. Lift the ban.”

“Do you know what you are asking for?” Svarog asked.

The king kissed his children, doomed by his foolishness to be forever dying, but never dead. “Yes,” the king said.

And Svarog blinked his eye.

This is the tale my father told me, and this is the tale that I have been given to tell you.

Go to Her now, child. Introduce yourself. Do not be afraid. She is not here for you, yet.

Soon it will be your time to make choices. Best to know Her before then. Best to know her well.

The Balticon Diversion

Greetings from Balticon, where I’ve been running about madly these last few days. On Thursday we published Issue 5 of The Journal of Unlikely Entomology, containing seven fantastic stories from seven fantastic authors, accompanied with seven fantastic artworks by seven fantastic artists. The only thing missing is the seven brides. And the seven brothers.

The convention has been busy. We had a book launch for A Bard in the Hand, an anthology containing a story called Embarrassing Relations, which I co-wrote with Bob Norwicke.

On Friday night I was rooked into a panel called “Erotica a la Carte: Iron Chef Erotica.” The basic idea is that 3 authors are given a secret ingredient and given exactly 15 minutes to write smut. We then read the results out loud and were judged.

It took 2 martinis to get me in front of an audience writing smut.

And then, damn it, I won. Now I have to do it again, competing against the winners from Farpoint and MarsCon. Tonight.

This will require 3 martinis.

Which I shall now endeavor to accomplish.

There will be no Kudzu chapter this week. Tomorrow I’ll post up a different story for your reading pleasure, and we’ll return to our fearful, neurotic adventurers next week.