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It’s a grey autumn day, drizzling softly, and cool. Perhaps the first day of autumn this year, if we want to be truthful. We turned on an extra heater for the iguana. Yesterday I learned that trying to use a short sword against someone with a spear is damnably ineffective. A few weeks back I faced off dagger vs spear with surprisingly good results (i.e. somewhat better than 50% success). You’d think the longer blade of the short sword would do better, all things considered. But it’s not. It’s slower than the dagger enough to miss the blocks against the poke-poke-poke, and you don’t have enough leverage to make the block effective when you get it. 5% success if I’m being generous with myself. Today, I’m sore. But not too sore to fling y’all off into space for more weedy reading.

Kudzu, A Novel

Chapter 19


Colleen shook her head at Michael, who was waving his arms like an idiot, floating in the mouth of the tunnel. With exaggerated gestures, she beckoned him across the large chamber to join her. Finally, he gave up and launched himself across the room toward her.

Colleen hooked a leg around a sturdy vine and caught him. Of course, he hadn’t considered the possibility of air currents, and might have gotten swept away. And then where would he be? She pulled him toward the leafy wall, and when she was sure he’d gotten a solid grip, she tapped on the glass of his helmet. She pointed down (was there a down? she thought there was, just barely) at the rivulets of moisture running deep in the kudzu wall.

Michael ignored her. Instead, he grabbed her head with both hands and pressed his helmet against hers. His lips moved. She could hear his voice, faintly, transferred through the plexiglass.

“We have to go, now. The ship’s leaving.”

“What?” She’d heard what he’d said; it just wasn’t registering. She thumbed her radio on.

Susan’s voice blasted in her ear, loud enough to be audible over the heavy static. “—to the ship immediately. We have to break away. Plant destroying the ship. Away team, return to the ship immediately. We have…”

Colleen nodded, and gripped Michael’s shoulder “We can’t jump back the way we came. There’s some powerful air currents in this chamber, and we don’t want to get caught up in them. We’ll have to walk it.”

“You turned your radio off?”

Colleen didn’t answer. She turned and pulled herself across the chamber wall, keeping her back to him so that she didn’t have to see the look on his face.

She could hear his breathing through the crackle of static and Susan’s panic-tinged voice as he scurried to catch up.

“Why? Why did you turn your radio off? Are you fucking insane?”

Colleen snagged the next vine that came into reach, swinging herself around to face Michael, and pulling herself up short. Michael did the same, almost flipping heels over head before he got control.

“Insane? I watched my husband get sucked through a hole the size of a nail. You wanna know how long two minutes is? That’s the time it takes for the skin to break, for the intestines to spew out, and the aorta to rupture. And then he’s gone. The light goes out in the eyes, and all that’s left is meat. And then there’s not even that. Just a stain on the glass.”

She closed her eyes against the look of pity on Michael’s face. But that just left her with Henry, burned even worse than she had been, after he threw her through the inner airlock door as it started to slide shut because something in the explosion that had ripped through the ship had punctured a hole through the outer door. She opened her eyes before she had to see him mouth those three words again. Better to face Michael.

“Yeah, maybe just a little insane,” she said. “Let’s go.”

They made it back to the thick tendril leading to the ship. The softly lit tunnel pulsed gently, soothingly. Susan’s voice shrieked in their ears.

“I’m there,” Slim said. Closer to the ship, Susan’s voice bordered on being painful, almost obliterating Slim’s rolling chirrup. “You guys getting close? I can see Ash. He looks kinda frantic. And Tharp’s right behind him. It’s like a party.”

“Almost,” Michael said. “We’re right behind you.”

“‘Kay, I’m going through. But with Ash as my lifeline, I’ll be lucky if I don’t end up getting flung out into space. And it’ll be all your fault.”

First there was a tremble in the leaves, then the whole tunnel shook and twisted. Thick vines split with loud cracks. Thinner vines twisted and bent around them. Air rushed toward the ship, ripping leaves from the vines, and carrying Colleen and Michael with it. Pulling them toward open space, and death.

The leaves sounded like a thousand birds taking flight.

Colleen curled into a ball. It was all she could think to do. This was how she’d die, and it was only fitting, really. It was only fitting.

They heard Ash’s voice, faintly. “Oh, no.”

And then the wind stopped, and there was silence. Susan’s voice was gone, and Ash’s.

And Slim’s.

Michael called his name, screamed it, threw himself down the tunnel toward the hedge wall–visibly growing and knitting together–where the ship had just been, scraping bits of leaves, dark green and glowing both, off his faceplate.

Screamed until Colleen couldn’t stand it anymore.

She ripped the helmet off her head. Tore the radio bud out of her ear and ripped the cable out of the suit, throwing it as far as she could down the tunnel. Holding her breath, she reached for her helmet, spinning in the air next to her. Shredded leaves and bits of vines and berries eddied around her.

She left the helmet spinning where it was. She breathed out all the air left in her lungs, and then inhaled deeply.

She wanted it to be toxic. She wanted it to burn her throat and lungs. She wanted to die screaming, the way Henry would have if he wasn’t being strong for her, there at the end, even after everything she’d done.

The air was sweet. Fresh.

It smelled of life.

And Slim… Slim was gone.

A sob ripped from her chest. She hadn’t cried when the flames burned the hair from her head and the flesh from left side of her body. She hadn’t cried when Henry died. She hadn’t cried when they’d gathered the remaining corpses and laid them to rest in a storage room, stacked like a heap of rolled up carpets, and she hadn’t cried when they had abandoned the team, friends and coworkers and… friends and coworkers, stranded down on the surface of Triton.

It was just water on her face.


That was all.