Kudzu, a Novel

Chapter 38

“Pretend,” Sir Reginald F. Grump XXIII said, gesturing at the old raccoon with his pipe, “just for a moment, of course — pretend that the wholly unjustified and entirely false rumors of my temporal wanderings are true. Not that they are, but it’s certainly a more pleasant thought than the alternate reality in which my memory has become so addled that I have entirely forgotten my old chum.”

The raccoon glanced at him, and then down at Murphy, upon whom he still stood. She regarded him with some concern, and with confusion. She wiped a hand across her face.

“Is this the part of the story where I’m supposed to wake up and realize that my alarm didn’t go off this morning?” she asked.

“Alas, no,” said Sir Reginald.

“Oh, heck!” The raccoon jumped off Murphy’s chest. “I’ve gotten mud all over your shirt. I’m so sorry, I was just so glad…”

He looked back and forth between Sir Reginald and Murphy.

“Do you really mean…?”

“I’m Kevyn,” Kevyn said, crouching by the old raccoon and extending a hand. The raccoon wiped his paw on his fur and shook her hand.

“Albert,” he said. “A pleasure to meet you.”

“Yeah, you too. So how do you know…?” she gestured at Sir Reginald.

The raccoon grinned. He took off his spectacles, brushed them on his fur. Put them back on. “Ah, now there’s a story. Comrades in arms, we were, back in the war. Daring daytime raids! Disappearing into the kudzu like ghosts!”

Albert settled back on his haunches.

“There were seven of us, like samurai, or cowboys. Us three. Kelly and Fenrir. Milo. And Mileva.”

The last name was spoken softly, with an ancient sadness.

“What do you mean?” Kevyn said. “There hasn’t been a war since, I dunno, since before the kudzu came.”

Albert’s eyes narrowed. “There was a war.”

“You’re too young to remember,” Sir Reginald said. “Humans never acknowledged it as a war, and have yet to acknowledge their crimes. I’m quite pleased to discover that I was active in the conflict, and on the right side.”

“She really doesn’t know?”

“Humans are particularly good at avoiding inconvenient truths.”

“I don’t understand,” Kevyn said.

“Henry McAdams,” Albert said, spitting.

“Senate Sub-committee of Genetic Integrity,” Sir Reginald said. “He’s the one who laid the groundwork for the so-called ‘shelter’ system.”

Both Kevyn and Murphy looked confused now.

“About six months after the kudzu hit, McAdams decided that none of us could be trusted. Raccoons, dogs, parrots. The Modifieds. Started sending us to ‘shelters’ for processing.”

“You won’t ever see anyone talking about it,” Sir Reginald said. “Not in the human world. But look up the Genetics Research Deauthorization Act of 2256 sometime, and the Genetic Biohazard Disposal Act. There’s a reason why people like Albert don’t mingle with humans.”

“McAdams called us terrorists.”

“Until he and the entire sub-committee were found dead in one of their own gas chambers.”

Gas chambers? Oh, God,” Kevyn said. “That’s horrible! I can’t believe…” She trailed off.

Albert tilted his head, slightly. “That humans would do something like that?”

“No,” Kevyn said. She shook her head. “Nothing humans do surprises me anymore. I’m just surprised that the assholes aren’t still boasting about it.”

~

“I don’t like this idea,” Albert said, looking over his shoulder at the humans who followed behind. They crawled single-file through a narrow tunnel that wound through the dense foliage. A ‘coon-hole,’ Albert had called it. Sir Reginald didn’t need to tell him how speciesist that was: apparently they had a long history of fighting injustice together.

Or would have. Time is a long river, flowing from the past into the future. Except when it’s a geyser, spraying bits of itself into the past. Or an ocean, mixing everything together in its briny depths. Metaphors only go so far before they become silly.

“We need information,” Sir Reginald said. He ducked under a drooping coil of kudzu and crawled after the others.

They had been crawling like this for half an hour. Half an hour where his view consisted primarily of Murphy’s buttocks under the thin cotton of the orange prison uniform, lit by the soft bioluminesence of the kudzu lamp-leaves. They would appear in a story, Murphy’s buttocks. He just wasn’t sure yet which one, but he was certain he’d enjoy thinking about them until their story came clear.

“We have avenues for gathering information,” Albert said. “We have our own networks.”

“Stop for a minute, Albert,” Sir Reginald said. He pressed his face against the side of the coon-hole, until he could see Albert’s battle-scarred face around Murphy’s curves. “What we’re talking about is the potential end of human civilization on Earth. Human civilization. The non-human people learned how to live in the kudzu — out of necessity, yes, but they know how to survive.”

“You keep talking about this threat,” Murphy said. “But you won’t tell us what it is. Why should we be crawling around through the fucking jungle on your say so? Do you have any idea how crazy this is?”

“Yes,” Sir Reginald said. “Nevertheless. Albert, these avenues you speak of, these networks–how many people involved in them would cry if humans disappeared? Can you guarantee that none of them would actually work to ensure that our efforts fail?”

“That would be genocide,” Albert said. “That would go against every principle we fought for.”

“How many people went into McAdams’ death camps, Albert? How many came out? How many people lost brothers, sisters, parents, children? How many lost lovers and spouses?”

Albert was silent.

“Ms. Murphy, I know you have no reason to believe me, but I trust my information, what little of it I have, for the same reason I trust Albert. I trust my source implicitly.”

“This is the same source that didn’t bother telling you to kidnap me until it was too late to turn back?”

Sir Reginald bit his lip. That had been underhanded of him, and he still wasn’t sure why. Perhaps he’d have balked, ignoring his future self’s advice? Perhaps he’d told her early on, while she still had a chance to escape, or betrayed himself subconsciously. Perhaps…

Perhaps. Perhaps. Perhaps.

It didn’t do to start second-guessing oneself. Especially one’s future self. That way lay madness.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

“Fuck you.”

“Actually,” Kevyn said, “he’s celibate. Or impotent. Or something.”

“Doesn’t surprise me,” Murphy said. “If we’re going somewhere, let’s go already. I’m going to go fucking crazy if I can’t stand up soon.”

“I forget sometimes how big you humans are,” Albert said. “And how claustrophobic this must feel. Come on, it’s only a little further, and it opens into a wider passage. The pub’s not far after that.”

“Hear, hear,” Kevyn said.

“Jesus,” Murphy said. “Just shut up and crawl.”

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