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Kudzu, a Novel

Chapter 37

 

Michael fretted. He paced. What if Colleen wasn’t coming? What if he’d blown it? What if…?

He tried raising her on the radio, but there was only silence.

Maybe he should go back and look for her.

Or maybe he should just continue on.

Static crackled in his ear.

“Colleen?” he said, too quickly. “Colleen, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it. I …”

The voice that replied wasn’t Colleen’s. It was higher pitched than hers, gruff and familiar, and not human.

“Michael! Fuck me, it’s good to hear your voice. I was worried I’d be trapped here with just fucking Ash to keep me company.”

“Slim?”

“In the fur. Damn. Ash and I tried to raise you guys for days. I was worried you might have… Well, it doesn’t matter. You’re alive, we’re alive, it’s like a fuckin’ reunion.”

“Wait,” Michael said. “What about the rest of the crew?”

Slim laughed. “Nice and comfy on the Beagle, I guess. I never made it there. Got lost in space and sucked back into the kudzu. Tried calling the ship, but that was a bust. Something about the electromagnetic fields inside the kudzu leaves. Faraday cage, she calls it. Says it’s a design flaw. Ash says that makes sense. He started talking equations and I tuned him out.”

Michael took a breath, trying to make sense of what Slim was saying.

“Ash was on the ship. If you never got to the ship, how are you with Ash?”

“Oh, yeah, remember how I was lost in space? Ash tried to rescue me.” Slim laughed. “We’re both here, so you can guess how well that worked out.”

“I… What? Ash? Rescued you?” Michael waved his hands pointlessly. The idea was patently absurd.

“Yeah, risked his life for a fucking raccoon. Don’t tell his parents or they’ll disown him. Probably would, too, if they were still alive.” Slim sneezed his contempt: a purely raccoon gesture. “We’ve been talking a lot, me and Ash. Anyway, where are you, so we can come find you?”

“Um. Lost in the middle of a giant kudzu ball? Near a spaceship or station or something. Does that help?”

“Yeah, not really. We’ve only been here a couple days, and haven’t had a lot of chance to go exploring. Maybe it’d be easier if you come to us. I could meet you at the ossuary—”

“How’m I supposed to find a, a what? Ossuary? I don’t even know what an ossuary is, much less how to find it.”

“Maybe if you can tell me a little more about where you are, I can get you directions. Is there anything about the spaceship that seems unique?”

Michael looked at the portal into the station. “I don’t know, I haven’t gone in. I was waiting for Colleen so we could go in together.”

“Aw, that’s so sweet.”

“Fuck you. I’ll look now.”

Michael squeezed through the narrow opening where the kudzu had cracked the shell of the station. It was pretty standard mid-21st century construction — too much crammed too close, a thousand compartments protruding from oppressively thick walls into a cramped, narrow space. The station was too small to have managed any reasonable artificial gravity, so it wasn’t designed with a floor. Which meant Michael had to pick his way over an uneven surface.

Michael relayed this to Slim, but didn’t hold out much hope. There were dozens of space stations like this that had been abandoned, and it was a good guess that many of them had been nudged into the satellite graveyard.

He worked his way to one of the bulky hatches. The wheel turned much more easily than he’d expected, and the door opened smoothly on well-oiled hinges.

Inside was another world.

It had been an observation room, a large, glass sphere about ten meters across. Michael stepped through the hatch and let himself slide down to the bottom of the sphere. Other than some scattered handholds built into the glass, the view was unobstructed.

And what a view!

Michael looked up and saw the kudzu vines and tunnels twisting over him, merging with other spacecraft, eventually converging on a thick, central hub from which all things emanated. In the middle of that was a large spaceship.

That, Michael was sure, was where the kudzu originated, and that’s what supplied the initial spin that allowed them to experience gravity, and kept the fish from flying off into the air.

Below his feet: the Earth in all its blue and green glory.

“Wow,” he said.

“What?” Slim said into his ear.

“There’s a giant glass observatory. That’s where we are.”

“That sounds pretty unique. The cat lady’ll know where that is, for sure. Be back soon.”

The connection dropped.

“Slim? Hello?”

Cat lady?

~

Colleen stopped running as soon as she saw the top of Michael’s head, as he climbed out of a crevice in the kudzu wall, and she pressed herself into the soft leaves, trying to catch her breath. She didn’t want to seem too panicked. Too desperate.

Had he seen her? It didn’t seem so.

Her heart hammered longer than it should. What the hell was wrong with her? She didn’t want to feel relief in seeing him, and she didn’t want him to know what she felt. She took deep breaths, when what she probably needed was a psychiatrist. Or at least the drugs.

When she felt she could move without risking passing out, she stepped away from the wall.

Michael was sitting next to the gap he’d crawled out of, leaning back against the wall. He hadn’t seen her.

Colleen approached, trying to keep her gait casual.

“So you decided to wait, after all,” she said. It wasn’t what she’d meant to say.

Michael looked up, a pained expression on his face.

God, I’m such an asshole.

“I talked to Slim,” Michael said, climbing to his feet. “He’s alive, and he’s somewhere inside the plant.”

A wave of relief washed through Colleen. “Good, I’m glad he’s safe.”

“Yeah, he and Ash are here. They’re going to try to get us directions. So we can meet up.”

Ash. It couldn’t have been Susan or Amelia. Or even Tharp.

“And the others?”

Michael shrugged. Feigning nonchalance, Colleen thought.

“Don’t know. On the Beagle, I guess. Anyway, there’s something I wanted to show you.” He glanced at the opening in the wall. “In here.”

He stood aside and let her crawl through, then followed. The inside was a cramped horror of an early model space station. In the old days, people actually lived in these things for months, even years. Colleen shuddered.

“Good thing I’m not claustrophobic,” she said. Though she was, a little.

“Keep going. There’s a hatch up ahead.”

“An airlock?”

Even with her back to him, Colleen could feel Michael’s jaw clench.

“Just joking,” she said. “I’m sorry, I’m just… I’m not good at this.” Whatever this was. Colleen wasn’t sure that even she knew what she meant.

Michael didn’t reply. She got to the hatch. The wheel turned in her hands, and the door came open.

Colleen crawled through…

…into space.

The observation sphere made up for any claustrophobia she had felt. Above her, the kudzu curled and twisted off into space. Below her… Earth, glowing softly in the moonlight.

It was so beautiful, so alive! Even with whatever had happened, even if humanity had been wiped out, after the desolation of Triton and the emptiness of space, the sight of it warmed her.

She slid down the curved glass until the Earth was under her feet. Michael scrabbled down behind her.

“Thank you,” Colleen said. “Thank you for this.”

Still looking out at the gentle curve of the Earth, she reached out, touched his fingers.

He flinched away from her, and she let her hand drop. Her chin quivered, but she wouldn’t, couldn’t look at him.

Then his fingers found hers.

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