Kudzu, a Novel
Susan heard a voice screaming as the disembodied mechanical hands surged over every surface, scuttling like angry scorpions over Jaworsky’s inert body, fingers clicking, tails thrashing. Toward her. When the glass of her helmet fogged up with spittle and breath, she realized the voice she was hearing was hers.
What she wasn’t hearing was Amelia.
The onrushing wave of Jaworsky-hands swept toward her, filling her vision with wriggling mechanical digits and metal palms. She closed her eyes and imagined them tearing at her, ripping first through her suit, then through her skin, tearing the flesh from her body in finger food sized strips.
And then they were on her, slapping against her, crawling over her feet and legs, swarming over her body.
Susan clenched her jaw against the anticipated pain, but it never came. Just the sensation of hundreds of spiders scampering over her, around her, pushing off against her back as they launched themselves through the open door.
“‘Melia?” she asked. Amelia didn’t respond, but now that Susan had stopped screaming, she could hear Amelia’s breath in her earpiece, rapid and panicked.
Susan swiped two of the hands off the faceplate of her helmet, brushed more off her shoulders. There were fewer of the things now, the torrent of mechanical creatures slowing to a stream.
Amelia was curled into a ball, spinning slowly in the air.
Susan shifted Jaworsky’s body out of the way. He spun slowly and drifted away from the doorway.
She looked so small. So very small.
There were only a few dozens of the Jaworsky-hands now, still coming out of the darkness of the ship. They skittered across the walls and out the door, escaping into the verdant green of the kudzu satellite.
Susan reached for Amelia, pulled her close. Wrapped arms around her. Susan could feel Amelia’s tiny body trembling through the fabric of her suit.
“Are you hurt? ‘Melia, take a deep breath. Are you hurt?”
Amelia shifted in Susan’s arms.
“I don’t think so.” Amelia straightened, turning until Susan could see her face. Her eyes were red-rimmed, and there was a bit of froth flecking her lips. “I thought they were coming for me. Because I killed two of them.”
“I think they sacrificed two of them so we could open the door for them,” Susan said. “Other than that, I don’t think they care about us one way or another. I’m not even sure they recognize us as sentient.”
Amelia glanced at the two split-shelled hands wired into the circuit board.
“I think maybe they do,” she said. “How’s Jaworsky?”
Jaworsky had floated off into the darkness. They could see the shadow of his form turning slowly in the gravity-free chamber.
“Fuck, I forgot about Jaworsky.”
Susan clomped on magnetic shoes toward him. He floated just out of her reach.
“Hold me out,” Amelia suggested.
She stretched out at the end of Susan’s reach and managed to get ahold of Jaworsky’s foot with both forepaws.
“Got him,” she said. “Pull us in slowly.”
Jaworsky was still breathing, but he didn’t look good.
“We really need to deal with this now,” Susan said.
“How? I don’t think he’s strong enough to survive for any length of time in a partial vacuum.”
“I have a feeling that’s not a problem anymore,” Susan said. She shrugged and reached for her helmet. “Let’s find out.”
“No!” Amelia shouted.
“If something goes wrong,” Amelia said, “I may not be big enough to wrestle your helmet back onto you in time. I’ll do it.”
Amelia held her breath as she unclipped her helmet. When she broke the seal, there was no puff of escaping air, which was a good sign.
She took a tentative breath, then another, before breathing in deeply.
“Well?” Susan said.
“It’s good,” Amelia said. “It tastes like life.”
Jaworsky, on the other hand, wasn’t good.
With the power out, and the elevators non-functional, there was no way Amelia and Susan could get him to the medical center. And they’d be working in the dark, anyway. At least in the doorway to what had been the docking bay there was kudzu-generated light.
Amelia scrambled through one of the coon-holes that ran parallel to the elevator shaft. As she moved, the slow spin of ship — and of the plant the ship was now part of — introduced gravity, though not as quickly or as strongly as when the Beagle had been under its own power.
Made sense, Amelia figured. The kudzu mass covered a much larger volume than the Beagle, and if you wanted to make sure your outer regions weren’t afflicted with crushing centrifugal forces, you had to reduce the rate of rotation accordingly.
Still, at some point along the trek, a human would have had to turn around not to pitch headfirst down the hole. How stupid was that?
“How did you creatures become the dominant life form, anyway?” she asked.
“Big brains,” Susan said. “Very convoluted.”
“That doesn’t help if you’re always falling on your heads. How’s Jaworsky doing?”
“Pretty much the same. The tourniquet is holding, but he lost a lot of blood. You remember the list I gave you?”
“Yeah. Bandages, antibiotics, IV fluids and needles.”
“And that sealant shit.”
Amelia shivered. She’d seen “that sealant shit” used once, when her partner on the maintenance crew had lost his legs in an accident, severed above the knees in one of the ventilation turbines, because Amelia didn’t have the mass or strength to pull him away fast enough. She’d had to apply it herself, before he bled out, even though it guaranteed that he’d lose another few centimeters of tissue if he wanted to be fitted with prosthetics. It was like foaming spray insulation, but it generated enough heat to cauterize a severe wound. She remembered the smell of burning flesh and Joe’s screams. After that, she’d worked alone.
Not that it mattered. Joe died anyway. She’d found his body still in his bed, eyes bugged out from the sudden vacuum as the explosion ripped holes in the hull. Unlike the others, she hadn’t slept the whole way back to Earth. In her waking time, she had explored the damaged ship, trying to figure out what had caused the main engines to explode.
She hadn’t been able to determine the cause, but she found the bodies. There was a notebook in one of her pouches, in which she had written down their names, and where she found them, and everything she could remember about them.
Her vision blurred suddenly, and she angrily brushed tears from her eyes. They were dead and gone. What mattered now was surviving, and making sure that everyone who was left did, too.
She focused on where she was putting her paws.
In the darkness at the edge of the light cast by her LED headlamp, something was moving.
Amelia held her breath, and crept forward.