Welcome to world of Kudzu. If you’re new here, you may want to read Chapter 1 first. You may even want to check out Kudzu: A Prologue in the just-released Sparkito Press anthology, Galactic Creatures, (which seems to be not-out-yet on Amazon, but is also available at the Dark Quest Books website) featuring stories by Rosemary Edghill, C.J. Henderson, and others.
Gone in the blink of an eye.
A thin layer of dust covered everything. Tharp rubbed his fingers together, feeling the fine silt in the grooves and whorls of his fingerprints. His footsteps echoed eerily through the empty corridor. Motion sensors flicked LEDs on as he walked, extinguished them in his wake.
He used to love the corridors; he’d jog the circumference of all six rings every day, glorying in the burn in his legs and the view through the porthole windows, showing the ship stretched out and beyond that, the stars, and infinity. Now the tangled wreckage was just a reminder of everything they had lost.
Each ring rotated around the ship’s hub, mounted on four spokes. Two of the spokes housed elevators; the other two were filled with wires and tubes and God knew what else. It wasn’t his job to know, but then, it wasn’t his job to be responsible for the lives of seven other people. He was supposed to be responsible for the research. For the ice and mineral analysis.
The cryonics chambers were on the opposite side of the ring from the bridge, counter-balancing bulges in the forward ring. The fastest way there was straight through–elevator from the bridge to the hub, a quick hop across the hub, and then the opposite elevator down to cryonics.
Tharp hesitated at the elevator door. He hated the elevator, the stomach-twist as gravity increased and then went away. He hated the sickening always-falling feeling of weightlessness, the loss of control. He hated the hub, which reminded him of nothing so much as some sort of cybernetic intestinal tract.
Tharp hurried down the corridor, almost jogging the half-mile to the other side. He kept his eyes on the floor, and didn’t look out the windows.
He hated the windows. And the corridor. He hated the whole ship, which had failed him so thoroughly, so catastrophically. And he hated the cryonics chamber, which had stolen so many years of his life.
It was an awful lot of hate for an inanimate object, for a damned spaceship, when all evidence showed that he was going to be stuck on it for a lot longer than he had hoped. Sometimes he envied Amelia. As the pilot, she constantly had a myriad of little tasks to occupy her time. She never had to think about the big picture, about the enormity of it all. And really, the raccoons were lucky that way, almost childlike in their thought processes.
She made a good pilot, though. Probably better than a human would have done, for her ability to focus in on the task at hand without being distracted by deeper thought. Especially any of the humans who’d survived the accident. Amelia was the only reason they’d even made it this far.
Tharp took a deep breath, and pressed his hand to the sensor.
The door slid open for him.
Row after row of pods, enough for a hundred people. Empty, all but six of them. The remaining crew clustered together in front of him: three men, two women. One raccoon.
There was no question as to who to revive first. The ship was broken, and as dislikeable as he was, Earl Jaworsky was the only person left alive who knew how to fix any of it.
The mobile control panel was stupidly complex. Tharp wheeled it over to one of the pods. Inside, Earl Jaworsky’s massive, tattooed body lay motionless, still as death. Wires ended in pads stuck to his thick-furred chest, his neck, and balding head. Tubes ran through his nose and mouth, his urethra and anus. Another tube–and this was the one that made Tharp’s knees go weak, even more than the urethral catheter–ran from the pod’s machinery directly into Jaworsky’s chest: the heart bypass tube that ran clear, cold cryo fluids through Jaworsky’s body.
Tharp cursed under his breath. It was tricky and complicated bringing someone back from the dead–or the near-dead, at least–best left to the automated systems. Each person was unique, and the cryo process was tailored to each body; reversing it was strongly tied to what had been done to start. Even the neural link to Jaworsky’s prosthetic hand needed to be taken into account, presumably, if he expected to be able to use it. With half the computer systems destroyed and most of the rest locked down until the ship’s command staff–all of whom were dead–could enter the access codes, they could only keep the data for one person to be auto-revived. That honor was reserved for Amelia, who needed to be woken every few years to pilot the ship. Everyone else had to trust that whoever tried to bring them back didn’t mistype any of the data on the faded printouts.
Now, with the ship still mostly inoperable and Earth-space mysteriously empty, they needed to get as much as possible working again, as fast as possible. And since Hendricksson’s hackery still hadn’t managed to break the codes in the sixty-five years they had been running, they needed to start bypassing the primary computer systems entirely. And for that, Tharp needed Jaworsky.
Astounding that the most valuable people on the ship right now were a raccoon and a glorified janitor.
Tharp studied the control panel, trying to remember what the procedure was to bring someone safely out of deep sleep.
He uncoiled the thick universal cable and plugged into the port on the side of the pod–the only port it would fit in, so that, at least, was right. His fingers hovered over some of the buttons, ready to enter the initializing sequences. He hesitated. Was it the right sequence?
“Godammit,” he said, stepping back from the machine.
There was a manual in the recovery lounge. He settled in to read.