It’s Friday, so there must be invasive weeds. If you’ve just joined us, you may want to consider starting at Chapter 1.
Kudzu: A Novel
Earl Jaworsky dropped his towel on the plastic bench and rummaged through his locker.
“There you are,” he said, pulling a rumpled pair of black boxer-briefs from a heap of clothing. The elastic crackled with age. He tugged them on anyway, adjusted his cock–still tender from the catheter–and balls until he was comfortable, snapped the waistband. It sagged a bit. Damn but he’d be glad to be back in civilization.
He stood in front of the full-length mirror. Pulled his shoulders back, expanding his chest. Sucked his gut in.
“Hardly look a day over a hundred twenty,” he grumbled.
He looked up as a portly raccoon shuffled on all fours through the doorway, tail held high.
“‘Bout time you got your lazy ass out of bed,” Jaworsky said.
The raccoon paused only long enough to flash a single extended digit at Jaworsky. He clambered up onto the counter and sat next to the sink. He punched a couple buttons and water flowed into the sink.
“Shower’s in the next room, Slim,” Jaworsky said.
“You ever gonna learn to clean up after you shave?” Slim responded. He rubbed his hands together under the running water, slicked the fur down around his eyes and groomed his whiskers. He lapped at the running water, then dunked his head under the tap.
“Fuck, no,” Jaworsky said. He ran his hands–one flesh and the other shining chrome–over his smooth scalp. “It’s the only thing that keeps me young.” He stepped into his coveralls.
Slim turned the water off and leapt from the counter. He hopped onto the bench next to Jaworsky. Jaworsky was pulling the coveralls up past his hips.
“You stink like a wet–” Jaworsky began.
Slim shook his head, spraying Jaworsky with water.
Jaworsky roared. “Goddamned fucking animal!” He reached for Slim, but only got a handful of his own towel as Slim whipped it at him.
Laughing, Slim ran down the length of the bench to his own locker. “Better than being human,” he chittered. He popped his locker open, sniffed. He reached in and extracted something. It was blue and green and gray, and thoroughly desiccated. He held it up.
“You think this is still good?”
Jaworsky pulled the towel away from his face. “What was it?”
Slim tapped the petrified thing against the bench. “Ham sandwich, maybe? With mayo.”
“Yeah, that shit never goes bad. Like them Chinese eggs.” Jaworsky ran his fingers again across his shaved scalp, feeling for anything he might have missed. “So, how’s my hair look?”
Slim tossed the ancient sandwich back into his locker; it landed with a metallic clang. “Like Gustavio fucking Delacourt.”
Jaworsky laughed. “Delacourt’s probably dead by now, flowing golden locks and all.”
“Like I said.”
Inside the pod, Ash Hendricksson’s corpse slowly pinked as the system cycled cryo fluids out of his veins and his own blood back in.
Eric Tharp chewed his lip. It was nerve-wracking. He’d almost killed Slim, trying to wake him. Fumble-fingered a number, and then looked away, distracted for a minute. Thank God nobody had seen. He certainly hadn’t told Slim.
It took a good forty minutes to bring the body back to near-life: blood flowing, oxygen circulating, body temperature rising, organs gradually remembering what they were supposed to do. But up to the last step, it was still little more than a corpse.
Hendricksson’s eyelids flickered. His face grimaced, smiled, frowned. His tongue moved in his mouth and his jaw worked. The muscles in his neck tensed and relaxed. The ten-minute exercise cycle still creeped Tharp out, as the pod stimulated every muscle in Hendricksson’s body in a manner designed to minimize actual movement.
It was supposed to prevent atrophy. It reminded Tharp of an old horror vid he’d seen as a kid. He couldn’t even remember the name.
The micro-convulsions rolled down Hendricksson’s body, from head to foot, and then he was still as death again.
When the monitor finally indicated that the body was ready to be functionally normal, Tharp wasted no time. He raised the plexiglass cover and began extracting catheters. The important one was the tube that extended down the throat into the stomach, branching into both lungs. The risk was that the sleeper might bite through the tube when shocked back to life, and then choke to death. The anal and urethral catheters could be left until later, but it seemed cruel to make the patient experience that when he could be spared the discomfort, as Jaworsky had so vividly explained to him.
Tharp punched in the final commands. Inside Hendricksson’s body, Tharp knew, the chest tube was detaching, pumping the remainder of the blood into the body and sealing the aorta shut. There was a fail-safe button, which would auto-revert this step if the heart failed to start, giving the sleeper a few more hours, so that a doctor could intervene.
Not that they had a doctor.
There was an audible thump, and Hendricksson’s body arched. Nothing. Tharp held his breath. Another thump, and the heart started, the double-beat broadcast from the monitor speaker. A second later, Hendricksson gasped and started breathing.
A few minutes later, Hendricksson opened his eyes.
“Fifty years already?” he croaked. “Feels like only yesterday…”
Tharp peeled electrodes off Hendricksson’s body. “Almost sixty-five, actually. Amelia hit some trouble in the asteroid belt.”
“Trouble? And you left it to that… to her? Shit. Why didn’t anyone wake me?”
Tharp’s eyes narrowed. “That what?”
Hendricksson opened his mouth, the shut it. He rubbed his eyes. “Nothing.”
“That’s what I thought. And it wasn’t anything we hadn’t anticipated. We knew we were working on incomplete data, since our resident computer genius got himself locked out of the system. We knew we’d have to make some changes on the fly. We just weren’t as lucky as we might have been, and lost some momentum. Nothing Amelia couldn’t handle.”
Hendricksson flushed. “Now that’s not fair–”
“Nothing about this is fair. Get some clothes on and wake the others. I’ve got to get back to the bridge.”
Tharp set the manual and the recovery charts on the monitor and headed for the door.
“Yeah, sure,” Hendricksson said to Tharp’s back. “Sixty-five years. Fuck. At least we’re saved, right?”
The door slid shut behind Tharp, leaving Hendricksson alone in the chamber. He looked at the rows of empty pods, and then at the three that held bodies. He pressed a hand to one of the plexiglass covers, gazed long at the corpse-pale face within, and then made his way unsteadily to the locker room.