A couple weeks back I was tagged to participate in the “Next Big Thing” meme, wherein writers answer 10 interview questions regarding a work in process. I decided that Kudzu counts as much as any other project I’ve got going, so, that’s what I wrote about. Take a look if you’re interested in a little of where this story originated.
Kudzu, A Novel
Ash was terrified. Yeah, he’d spent years in space. Yeah, he’d set foot on Triton, as distant a point from Earth that any human had ever been, at least as far as he knew. But he’d never been in space. As in, floating around without at least two layers of reinforced metal hull between him and a very, very cold death.
But here he was, walking on the outside of the fucking hull, the wrong side, and the only thing keeping him from floating away like poor Slim was an electromagnet in each boot.
He hoped he didn’t piss himself.
That would be embarrassing. Especially in front of Susan.
It would probably also be uncomfortable.
He and Susan trudged across the hull, side by side. Almost like they were on the same team, for once.
That didn’t suck.
Slim and Jaworsky were trading insults, arguing like an old married couple. Ash knew it was to keep Slim calm, but he wondered how much air Slim had left.
“There he is!” Susan pointed.
Slim looked like a white doll, turning slowly against a speckled black field. Tendrils of green cut across the blackness.
He was so small. So very far away.
“There’s a post up ahead. Slim, we’re going to tie off there and then we’re coming your way.”
They had two long tethers. Susan clipped one to the post and the other to her harness. The second tether ran between Susan and Ash. Susan held the coiled length of it in one hand; the other found Ash’s. He gripped her firmly, and hoped he’d have the courage to let go when the time came.
“You ready?” she asked.
“No,” he said. “Let’s get this over with.”
They shut off the magnets in their boots, and at the count of three, they leapt.
The nice thing about zero-G, Earl Jaworsky thought, is that it doesn’t matter how dizzy you get, you never fall down. There’s no down to fall.
Of course, floating around didn’t help much with fixing the dizziness, either.
He waved off Tharp. Again.
“I’m fine,” he said. “Go away.” He grabbed for the wall with his live hand. Breathe deep and steady, and focus on a single, non-moving point. That had served him well in the past, when it wasn’t an inner ear infection. Or vodka. He held his other hand in front of his face and concentrated on the center of the metallic palm.
Little singe mark. Yeah, right. His whole hand showed signs of the spark that threw him across the room. Good thing it wasn’t his flesh and blood hand, or he’d have been looking for another replacement limb, or worse. The insulating layer between his arm and his hand had probably saved his life.
The hand still tingled. He flexed it, the whole hand, and the wrist, then finger by finger. It seemed to be working just fine. Possibly the jolt just damaged some of the neural-optical interfaces. Docs had learned not to plug artificial limb I/O directly into the nerves. The slightest electrical jolt was magnified and zapped into the body. He’d had one of those early models for three months, bought used on the grey market by his cheap-ass former employer, until he found a job that didn’t suck.
The tingling was annoying, but the hand worked, and he could buff out the scorch marks later. He wondered if Ash or Susan had the skills to adjust or repair the optics. Probably not.
Didn’t matter. What mattered was keeping Slim calm until he could be rescued. Jaworsky was aware, in a strangely detached way, that his mouth was moving as if on automatic, trading jabs and insults with his friend while he was concentrating on other things. Like finding a plan B for when Ash fucked up again and Slim drifted beyond his reach.
Focusing on his hand worked. He wasn’t dizzy anymore. But Tharp still hovered over him like a guilty conscience, arms outstretched as if to catch him if he fell. Stupid fuck.
Jaworsky slapped Tharp’s hands away. “Yer botherin’ me, kid,” he said. “Don’t you have anything better to do, being captain and all that shit?”
Tharp hesitated. “Yes, of course. But the safety of my crew—”
“Your crew is floating out in fucking space, and lost in a giant goddamn ball of kudzu. What are you doing about it? Yeah. That’s what I thought.” Jaworsky kicked off against the wall and sailed up the Beagle’s long central hub, away from the power plant that had almost fried him, and away from Tharp. “Amelia, I’m heading toward the air lock. What’s plan B?”
“There’s no plan B,” she said. “If Ash and Susan can’t get to Slim before we’re out of range, that’s it.”
“We can move the ship toward him.”
“We only have enough fuel for one maneuver,” Amelia said. “We move toward Slim we can maybe save him, but then we’re all together on a ship with no fuel, aimed at the surface.”
“Of the kudzu? That’s probably where we need to end up anyway.”
“No.” Amelia hesitated. “Of the Earth.”
Colleen and Michael stopped at the end of the tunnel and looked out across the massive chamber—the Cavern of Winds, Colleen called it.
“We should go back,” Michael said. He picked fragments of kudzu leaves out of Colleen’s hair. “So they can find us when they come back for us.”
“They’re not coming back,” Colleen said. She plucked a cluster of berries out of the air as it floated by and popped a couple in her mouth.
“What are you…?” Michael was horrified. “You have no idea if they’re edible.”
“Of course they are.”
“How do you know?”
Colleen gestured at the foliage around her. “This isn’t accidental. I mean, maybe the state of it is, but plants don’t just start growing in the vacuum of space by themselves, no matter how virulent a weed they are.”
“But nothing. It’s got to withstand extreme fluctuations in temperature–and I mean extreme: not bad in the sun, but temperatures drop to 97 degrees Kelvin when in shadow. In here we’re insulated from all that. And these tunnels! Plants just don’t grow in air-tight tunnels unless they’ve been genetically engineered to. This is an intentionally created environment. It was made for us. For people.”
“How can you be sure?”
Colleen gave a purple-toothed smile. “Kudzu is in the pea family. Peas in a pod, you know. This kudzu has pods, yeah, but there are also berries. Have a berry. Or have some peas. The whole plant is probably edible.”
Michael shook his head. “What do you mean they aren’t coming back?”
“They can’t. At least not here. You saw how twisted the tunnel got after the breach. Even if they wanted to, there’s no way they could connect back up to the same tunnel. It’s all coiled up inside the larger… the larger body of the thing. They’d have to connect to some other tunnel, and I’m not sure how we’d even be able to figure out which one from here.”
Colleen laughed at Michael’s expression.
“Don’t worry about it. We’ve got food and water and air. We’ll be fine.”
The thought was like a barb jabbed in the base of her skull. She stomped on it before it could take over. She popped another berry in her mouth, and concentrated on the bittersweet spray of juice on her tongue as she crushed it between her teeth.