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There’s an illustration for this chapter, but alas, between needy creatures (anyone want to adopt a special-needs kitten?), plumbers, electricians, tile contractors bearing figs, and a couple days of out-of-town datacenter work, it’s not quite ready for prime time. I’ll add it when it’s ready. [updated 11:53 am Aug 6th: We can haz art.]

Kudzu, a Novel

Chapter 10

For some reason, Sir Reginald had turned off the flashlight, leaving them in darkness. The only light came from some of the LED displays on the telescope controls, dim even in the blackness, and from the night sky.

“Can I zoom in closer?” Kevyn asked.

Sir Reginald didn’t answer. Testing her.

Fine. She’d figure it out herself. There were a lot of buttons and knobs, but she at least remembered which of them she’d touched previously.

Her first attempt shifted the telescope to the right, to a view of empty space. She reversed that until the strange ship was more-or-less centered once again in the telescope’s view.

“Don’t worry, I’ll get it. I don’t need your help.”

She closed her eyes, took a breath, and tried to remember the feeling of her arm and hand moving to change the magnification, the way Sir Reginald had shown her. She let her hand follow her memory. Her fingers touched a hard, plastic knob. She opened her eyes.

Turning the knob toward her (turning it counter-clockwise; she wasn’t sure why her brain had decided that to-the-left was closer than to-the-right) zoomed away from the strange spacecraft, reducing it to a dot against the Greenmoon; turning it away from her brought it closer.

“See? Told you I’d figure it out.”

Sir Reginald remained obstinately silent.

If he thought playing stupid mind games was the key to getting in her pants, he was sorely mistaken. Of course, he proclaimed himself both a celibate and a virgin, but Kevyn didn’t believe that for a second. The man wrote pornography for a living, for crying out loud. He probably had a filing cabinet somewhere full of non-disclosure agreements with former lovers.

It was probably part of the franchise agreement, Kevyn reflected. A Sir Reginald F. Grump XXIII had been offending the reading public for hundreds of years. Kevyn herself had a first edition copy of Bugrotica, a collection of Grump’s 19th Century writings, published in the early 21st Century. Some Grump or another had been publishing sporadically for over three hundred years.

The myth of the perpetual pornographer, celibate and eternal, was certainly good for sales. The Sir Reginald that Kevyn knew perpetuated the myth by simply not addressing it. Admitting, in fact, that it was both absurd and impossible, with the tiniest smile that hinted that maybe there was more to the story.

Actually, it was kind of hot, she thought, when he did that — that hint of mystery glimmering in his eye. And then, remembering that he was probably barely a foot away in the darkness, playing creepy mind games, she put that thought where it belonged. They would not be needing a non-disclosure agreement. Especially if he kept this up.

Kevyn looked back at the strange vessel. It was moving, slowly. She hadn’t noticed its movement within a wider field, but closer, it seemed to be gradually approaching the Greenmoon.

“What do you think?” she asked. “Martians? Or someone else?”

The colonies on Mars had written off the mother planet. Quarantined the whole sector. Not that the conspiracy nuts believed a word of it. It was all a big hoax, perpetrated by the government and the media and the scientists, for alleged reasons that Kevyn still couldn’t make sense of. The Martians sent support shipments to the lunar colonies, unmanned drones full of precious water. That was how the lunar colonies survived (not that the conspiracy nuts believed that, either.) But those were one-way deliveries only. The Martians took no chances; any ship that came into Earthspace would never leave, and the drones were designed to fuse into an unsalvageable lump after their delivery was made.

Maybe this meant they’d changed their policies. Maybe they had finally decided to try to help solve the problem, rather than just avoiding it.

She increased the magnification yet again, close enough to see the details.

“Oh,” she said. It didn’t look like a Martian ship, with its trademarked red planet logo. This was something much older, and much bigger, than any Martian vessel she’d heard of.

And in much worse shape.

The entire back end of the ship looked like it had exploded, and what wasn’t just ribbons of torn metal was missing entirely. It looked like there had at one time been at least six rotating rings, and massive solar reflectors, mounted on a slender tube of a ship. Now, only the front two rings appeared at all intact, and only the foremost of them rotated.

Written on the hull of the ship’s central hub was its insignia: OPEV BEAGLE. Kevyn knew what a beagle was — it was a kind of predatory bird, one that had been extinct for decades. Large and graceful, and worthy of having a spaceship named after it. But she didn’t know what OPEV stood for.

“Sir Reginald? Come look at this.”

Sir Reginald remained silent, and the room remained dark.

“Sir Reginald? Hey! Grump!” Kevyn shouted. “Stop fucking around! You need to see this. These people are in trouble, and they’re heading straight toward the Greenmoon. Someone needs to warn them away, before it’s too late.”

Her voice echoed in the large, empty room.

“Sir Reginald?”