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Kudzu, a Novel

Chapter 13

It wasn’t completely rash and stupid, Colleen figured, as she squeezed through the gap Slim had cut in the plant. She’d been watching the kudzu carefully as she’d floated around the docking bay–it’s not like there had been anything else she could do–and while it visibly moved as it grew elsewhere, it seemed to make no attempt to repair the smoldering hole.

Of course, it could just be that the heat had effectively cauterized the vines around the hole, that the charred ends inhibited growth. That seemed a more likely scenario than the plant making a conscious decision, and one less subject to sudden change.

And if the thing ate her? Well, it’d be a valuable learning experience, and at least the crew wouldn’t have lost anyone important.

The wall of kudzu was thick, almost as thick as she was tall, which was good, she supposed. If the hull of your space station is made of twigs and leaves, instead of metal and polycarbon alloys, you want it as thick and dense as possible.

And the wolf huffed, and puffed, and…

Colleen pulled herself the rest of the way into the tunnel and freed her legs from coiled vines.

It was one thing to know what to expect, and another to experience it. The walls were lush and thick, and moving ever so slightly, like an infinite sea of green and brown snakes basking in their own light. The luminescent leaves glowed a soft blue-green, pulsing gently with waves of varying intensity. Almost as if the plant was breathing light. It felt, Colleen thought, like she was underwater, floating in crystal clear waters.

Peaceful, that’s what it was.

Dangerous, too. The tunnel within the plant was wide enough that she couldn’t reach from one side to the other. She could, potentially, have gotten stuck floating, out of reach of anything to grab a hold of. She could imagine herself suspended here, hypnotized by the softly oscillating light, slowly drifting down the twisting kudzu pathways until her oxygen ran out. Longer, even, as her body decomposed until all that remained was a skeleton in a space suit, floating around the place forever.

There’d be poems about her. Songs, even. The ghost of Colleen Byrne, doomed to haunt the giant space kudzu in search for her one true love, lost at space, long ago. Stories told around antique incandescent lamps to scare baby astronauts. She hummed a few tentative lines under her breath.

“Hey, your ass is blocking my view.” The snout of Slim’s helmet prodded her in the lower back, as his voice crackled in her ear.

“Sorry,” Colleen said. She moved away from the hole that led back to the Beagle, and then poked at the control panel on her left arm until her intercom turned off. Then she kicked off against the wall, launching herself down the long, twisting tunnel, deep into the depths of the mysterious plant, where–if only for a few precious moments longer–she could be alone.

~

Inertia was a bitch.

“You’d think it would be easier dragging a ton of cable in zero-G,” Jaworsky grumbled.

Amelia’s voice laughed from a dozen speakers built into the hull. “Ten minutes ago it was only half a ton. You must be moving at relativistic speeds.”

Jaworsky bit off his response. She probably wouldn’t have taken it in the right spirit anyway. Instead, he uncoiled another loop of the heavy copper cable from the spool and stretched the end out until the slack was gone.

Lather, rinse, repeat. This is why he shaved his head. He hated repetitive jobs, especially jobs like this: mind-numbingly simple, but exacting. If he wasn’t careful, he’d end up with too much of the cable moving at once, with no way to stop it. Nothing like getting crushed between a ton of slowly unspooling cable and the outer wall of a nuclear reactor to ruin your whole day.

There were conveyors built into the sides of the hull to move things safely from one end of the ship to the other. Unfortunately, they needed power to work, and until he got this damned cable spliced in, power was in short supply.

Jaworsky ground his teeth, uncoiled another loop from the spool, and painstakingly hand-walked it down the hull, until the slack was gone.

Lather, rinse, and repeat.

~

“That won’t work,” Ash said, watching characters flicker across the screen of Susan’s computer.

“Fuck off,” Susan suggested. She tapped at the terminal keyboard, studying the flow of data from the ship’s computer. Or rather, the lack of data. “And stop hovering over my shoulder.”

“No, I mean, I already tried breaking the encryption with Garfield-Han decoding, and I ran gank and rootit against the password files.”

“You did it wrong.”

“No, I didn’t. I got results. It’s just the results didn’t work.”

Susan paused, fingertips playing on the surface of the keys as she considered. “Interesting,” she said, and then began typing again. A quick combination of keys opened a new screen; a few more keystrokes and Ash’s login prompt glowed at the top of the screen.

“Password?” Susan asked.

“What? I don’t think so.”

“I promise I’m utterly uninterested in your porn collection.”

“No. I’m not giving you my password.”

“I’m serious. Jaworsky’s porn is way better than yours.” Susan shrugged. “Yeah, so I get bored easily. But seriously, how many cheerleader fantasies can you watch before the fetish is worn thin? I can hack your account again in less than an hour, or you can just tell me your password, already.”

Ash flushed. “I can’t believe you hacked my account! That is a violation of, of privacy, of trust, of–”

“Fucking hell. I only hacked your account after I started logging your failed attempts to hack mine. Now stop being such a self-righteous prick and tell me your damned password.”

Ash chewed on his lip. “Fine. Whatever.”

Susan spent the next few minutes silently reviewing hidden files in Ash’s account, scanning and processing the data faster than Ash could read. Then she chuckled.

“You got trojaned. The password file you hacked was a decoy, and when you tried to access those accounts, all you managed to do was install software that makes sure you never get near any real system files. Everything you’ve been trying to hack has been an illusion. You really are just a waste of time.”

“Fuck you. I’ve been trying to help, and all you do is tear people down. Well fuck off, and don’t come asking for favors.”

Ash stormed out of room, and almost made it all the way to his cabin before bursting into tears.

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