Kudzu, a Novel
Following the right hand path led, eventually, to another iris-door, and another lake, complete with fish and cats and bees. Or maybe it was the same lake. It was hard to know. The tunnels wound and twisted around so much that it was impossible to keep one’s sense of direction, and the tunnels and chambers had no obvious landmarks. Everything had the same organic lumpiness.
Michael and Colleen replenished their supply of berries, and then backtracked.
They walked until they were exhausted, finding multiple routes back to the lake — or lakes — and then they slept, back to back, wrapped in their silvery blanket for warmth. Touching, but not acknowledging it.
The lamp-leaves dimmed around them.
Colleen woke first. She slipped out from under the covers and tucked them around Michael. As she started moving around, the lights brightened; the plant was clearly responding not only to their presence, but making decisions based on some sort of pattern matching.
She walked down the tunnel a ways to see what the kudzu would do. Around her, the lights remained relatively bright, but they dimmed around Michael’s sleeping form.
“Aren’t you clever?” she said. “What else can you do?”
She had to climb a few feet up a wall to reach one of the lamp-leaves. It was slightly warm to the touch, not hot like an incandescent bulb, but like a florescent tube, and vibrated very lightly, as if it were humming.
She put her ear to it.
Was it? Yes. It hummed softly with a familiar sound — the sound that she’d known all her life, that had been so much a part of the world that she never really heard it. More that she heard its absence on the rare occasions power failed during a storm. Here it was, singing from the depths of the foliage: the infamous 60 cycle hum that plagued musicians since they first learned how to feed electricity into a guitar.
It made sense. The kind of luminescence they’d been seeing needed some sort of power source; simple bioluminescence just wasn’t bright enough, and really couldn’t be, without becoming quickly exhausted. Unless all the leaves within the kudzu were bioluminescent. It would work, but it would be tremendously disconcerting, like living in a film negative.
The silver leaves on the exterior of the kudzu, then, were solar cells, collecting sunlight and converting it to electricity.
Which meant that there was — had to be — some mechanism by which the power was transmitted through the plant and made available to the lamp-leaves. A power grid, of some sort.
Colleen lifted the wide leaf to examine the base. The stem glowed, and it was warm where it connected to the vine. She shifted her weight to get a better look.
There was a soft snap.
There was a flash of light.
Colleen lay on her back on the tunnel floor, gasping for breath. Her fingers tingled, but not bad. Mostly she had knocked the wind out of herself by inhaling just as she hit the uneven floor.
She forced herself onto her hands and knees, and then up onto her heels, as she tried to catch her breath. Michael was sitting up under his silver blanket, watching her.
“I’m fine,” she said, when she could. “Don’t bother getting up.”
She brushed a hand through her short hair, stood, dusted herself off. “Yeah,” she said. “Don’t worry about me. I’m just fucking fine.”
She felt Michael’s eyes on her as she walked away, and she kept walking until she couldn’t feel them anymore.
And then kept walking.
It was calm here by the lake, calming, and Colleen sat in the moss and watched the cats fish. The placid waters rippled gently, and the bees buzzed from flower to flower. The loamy scent of the moss mingled with the sweetness of ripe berries.
But really, she’d had her fill of berries.
She had no idea how long they’d wandered, lost within the kudzu, and other than a few handfuls of tough, tasteless kudzu peas, all she’d eaten were berries. How long before she turned purple herself?
One of the cats strolled proudly past her, a fish wriggling in its mouth.
Colleen’s mouth watered, remembering sushi.
She reached toward the cat, slowly, but it bolted. Wrestling a cat for a fish didn’t seem wise, anyway.
She had left her pack back with Michael, but she didn’t think there was much in it that would be of use in catching a fish. She needed a net, or something.
She lay back on the soft moss and looked at the roof of the chamber, and thought.
And then, she got to work.
There was something oddly liberating about standing naked in a lake, trawling for fish with one’s shirt. A break from, well, from everything. From civilization. From shame. From inadequacy. From the past.
From everything society ground into a person from the day she was born.
The cats and the fish didn’t care that her tits were too small, or her nose too big, or that she had horrible scars melted into her body. Right here, right now, nobody cared.
Clothes were to protect from the elements. Right now, it was warm. She shoved her panties and bra into her pants pocket, and draped them over her shoulder.
She pulled her shirt, flapping and dripping, out of the lake. It was tied off at the neck and sleeves with kudzu vine twine to make the net, and then again at the other end to keep her catch in. Water streamed through the fabric, until it was just fish.
She headed back to where she had left Michael, who had made something akin to a blade from his space suit’s belt buckle. They’d have a proper meal, and if the fish lived long enough for her to get back to camp, she could put some of them in one of her water skins, to save for later.
And maybe, just maybe, she and Michael could talk. Not about the past, for once. About the future.
When she got back to camp, Michael was gone.