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Kudzu: A Novel
Earl Jaworsky set his toolbox down on the elevator floor as Slim hurried to catch up.
“I still think we should eat something before we get to work,” Slim huffed. “Sit down to a real meal like civilized creatures.”
“A real meal of what? You gone senile in your old age?” Jaworsky strapped the toolbox down. Slim set his own bag next to it, and strapped it down as well. He pulled a protein stick out of one of his coveralls’ multiple pockets.
“I dunno. We don’t even know what’s going on yet, and Tharp’s got us running around doing his errands.” Slim reached up and pressed the ‘0’ button as he gnawed at the protein stick. He grimaced. “It’s stale. We could at least have breakfast first. I mean, it’s been years since I’ve eaten anything. Decades, even.”
Jaworsky grabbed hold of one of the handholds distributed around the walls, floor, and ceiling of the elevator. “We’ll grab something when we check out the food processors.”
Slim went to all fours and held on to the floor. “You mean, before it’s flavored?”
“I thought you and yer delicate raccoon sensibilities hated artificial flavors. This’ll be all natural shit.”
As the elevator moved toward the hub, gravity faded, and their feet lifted slightly from the floor.
The elevator came to a stop. Jaworsky put a hand up to catch himself against what had until recently been the ceiling. Slim inverted, dangling vertically from what had just been the floor. After the occupants had been given enough time to deal with momentum, the former ceiling of the elevator slid away. Beyond was the hub, turning slowly relative to the elevator, and the netting suspended between the spokes to catch anything that hadn’t yet damped its inertia.
Slim reached over and unsnapped his bag, then walked from handhold to handhold until he stood at the elevator’s edge.
“Well, sooner we get to work, the sooner we get to eat,” he said.
Jaworsky joined him. They stared down the long, hollow expanse of the hub. It was a long way before the lights failed. The second ring didn’t appear damaged, though the scorch marks reached up to and a little beyond it, before the escaping atmosphere sucked the flames out. Undamaged, and where Michael and Colleen and Ash had been trapped. Power to the second ring had been disrupted in the accident, and it wasn’t turning. It hadn’t been a priority. All power had been lost, and it had taken Jaworsky and Slim, with Amelia and Susan’s help, nearly four days of amphetamine-enabled work to get power to the command ring restored, by which time they were almost dead from oxygen deprivation.
That had been a month ago, by internal time. Sixty-five years. It still seemed unreal.
Further on things were worse. The third and forth rings had taken damage, and the spokes had bent the hull. The fifth ring had been torn partially free of the main ship, and the sixth was simply gone.
Half the crew had been in the fifth and sixth rings.
Slim’s tail curled around him, protectively. “So, Tharp says we’re supposed to make sure everything down there is in good working order?”
“Yeah. Maybe we’ll start at the other end.”
“Yeah.” Slim twisted to look toward the front of the ship, to the dock’s air lock. “I was thinking the same thing.”
Slim gripped a handhold with his rear paws as he unscrewed an access panel.
Jaworsky reached over from where he was tethered, tapped his wrench against the panel. “They teach you how to read in raccoon school?”
The sign read LASERS MAY CAUSE PERMANENT EYE DAMAGE.
“Yeah, yeah. I got your eye damage right here.” Still, Slim paused to set his goggles over his eyes before opening the panel. It was dead, though, the power supply burnt out, so even with some of the cables broken and the optics exposed, there was no danger. “Tharp give you any idea of what we should be looking for?”
“Nope. Just said we might need to be on this wreck a little longer than anticipated, and to make sure she’ll hold up.”
Slim stuck his head into the tangle of cables. “I don’t get it. If we made it home, what’s the big fucking deal? And if we didn’t? We sure as hell don’t have the fuel to get us there. You got a 25 fuse?”
“We made it, but something’s wrong. Fucking Tharp doesn’t trust us peons to keep doing our jobs if he told us.”
“Told us what?”
“Whatever the fucking hell he isn’t telling us. God fucking damn it. ‘Check everything.’ Just the two of us? Captain Vasquez would have given us a priority list.” Jaworsky handed slim a fuse.
Slim accepted it and crawled into the hole until only his tail protruded.
“You hated Vasquez,” he said.
“I hate everyone. But at least she wasn’t perpetually engaging in cranio-autocolonoscopy. She’d have told us to start with the reactor and life support systems.”
In a rustle of fiber optics, Slim twisted around until both his head and his tail protruded from the wall. His lips twisted into a raccoony smirk.
“Don’t even fucking start,” Jaworsky said. “Just hurry up and finish so we can check the reactor.”
“Yeah, okay.” Slim handed the burnt fuse to Jaworsky, set the new one into place. Broken fibers sent bright beams of light cutting across the dim expanse of the hub. Slim tugged the broken fiber cables out and replaced them with fresh cables from his bag.
“You think she made it?” he asked.
Jaworsky frowned. “Sixty-five years, and nobody rescued us. They didn’t have more’n six months of food down on the surface, and no cryo. So what do you think?”
“I want to think they made it,” Slim said, packing his tools. “That’s what I think.”