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Kudzu: A Novel

Chapter 5

Anything wrong? With <i>this</i> ship?

Tharp stood framed in the doorway, haloed in bright light. “How’s it going?”

Amelia kept her eyes on the monitors, watching for any indication that she might be coming dangerously close to any of the vines. “Not bad,” she said. “Couple more hours – maybe three – and we’ll be in position to try docking to this thing.” She ran all the working cameras through the main monitor. “Whatever it is.”

“Good.” With a soft hiss, the door slid shut behind him.

“I think we’re going to have to cut our way in, though. Can you tell the guys to bring out the heavy equipment?”

“I’ve got Jaworsky doing a thorough systems check on the ship. I want to know everything that’s wrong with it before we get ourselves into something we can’t get out of.”

Amelia’s laugh devolved into a sarcastic chitter. “Anything wrong? With this ship?”

Tharp approached the main monitor, studying the thing. From this angle, it filled most of the screen, with the blue-green Earth splayed out in the background.

“Anything new,” he said. “So we’ll hold off on docking until we get the all clear.”

Amelia zoomed the camera in on the orb so Tharp could study it. “You’re almost starting to make sense. Keep this up and you might even make a good captain one of these days. Despite yourself.”

“I didn’t ask for this,” Tharp snapped.

“Sorry,” said Amelia into the silence that followed. “So Jaworsky’s fixing the ship. How about the others?”

“Hm?” Tharp shook himself out of whatever darkness had encompassed him. “Slim’s with Jaworsky. I woke Ash, too. He’s bringing the others around.”

“Ash? Is that wise?”

Amelia flicked a switch to bring a small monitor set into the arm of her chair online. It showed static; the engine room camera was gone, of course. Along with the engine, and the engine room itself. Nothing but torn metal left back there. She’d seen it herself when she and Slim had wormed through gaps in the wreckage that were too small for Jaworsky or the others to fit through. There were images from that horrifying trek that haunted her sleep, but the wreckage of the engine room wasn’t one of them.

She tabbed sequentially through the public areas of the ship. Most of them were just static. Eventually, she found the feed from the cryo room camera.

On the tiny screen, a human form lay on the gently reclined pod bed, while another stood at the control panel. Amelia zoomed in until they filled the screen.

Susan was still in cryo – still effectively dead – though the chest tube ran red with blood, and her flesh had pinked up. She was ready, just waiting to be shocked to life. The other figure, Ash Hendricksson, reached out and stroked her cheek.

Then his hand dropped to Susan’s breast.

“Bastard.” Amelia’s teeth ground together as a growl built in her chest. She stifled it; they couldn’t afford to fracture the tenuous social fabric of the surviving crew–not until they were rescued, at least.

But after they were rescued…

Amelia pushed a button. A word appeared in the top left corner of the screen, blinking red: ‘RECORDING.’

~

Susan Kernighan blinked her eyes against the bright light, suddenly awake, heart pounding. Her mouth was dry and sticky. She could feel the chest tubes slowly retracting, pulling together and sealing tissues as it withdrew into itself. She could visualize it; she’d watched dozens of medical tutorials of the procedure before she’d ever consented to join this mission. She’d studied the structure and processes of the nano-biotech employed, had studied the poly-RNA encoding that informed the behavior of each artificial cell. And she’d tried to hack it, probing the system for hackable vulnerabilities, or critical failure modes.

The code was unusually robust. She still didn’t trust it – not completely – but she trusted it enough to let it in her body. Like her neural tap, it was an acceptable risk-benefit tradeoff.

She licked her lips and tried opening her eyes again.

Ash Hendricksson stood in front of her, his eyes hungry. Fuck.

“What are you staring at?” Susan’s voice crackled, like she was speaking through autumn leaves.

Ash blushed. “I… Uh…”

He almost stepped back, but caught himself and stepped forward instead, lips set in anger, though whether it was at her or at himself Susan didn’t know. In the long run, she knew, the cause wouldn’t matter, once the male pattern defensiveness set in.

“Tharp told me to bring you all around, so that’s what I’m doing. Or do you want to sleep forever?”

Ash reached out to pluck a pad off her chest. Susan slapped his hand away.

“Hey, hands off, boy genius. I’m a big girl now, I can manage this all by myself.”

Ash turned away as Susan detached monitor cables and untangled herself from the pod.

“Yeah, whatever,” he said, trying to keep his voice casual. “I was just trying to help.”

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