This noncanon bonus chapter was written to promote my new satirical xianxia action story Cultivine, now available on Royal Road. Make sure to read that story too; it’s really stupid! But for a retrofuture twist on that same stupidity, read on:
It started with a knock on the door.
Morgan Harding was getting ready for work in the morning, just like any other. They had fallen asleep on the couch while playing Genesis Crush (grinding for stats after the Level 60 cap was a real slog), and had all the aches and pains that came with it. But even still, they tumbled off the couch, stumbled up on their feet, and rumbled over to the bathroom to get a morning shower. A very successful start so far, if they did say so themself.
Now they were almost ready to leave; they had a buttered toast sitting on a tiny plate, and they had almost their whole suit on, minus the tie and the shoes.
But it was halfway through that four-in-hand knot that their morning routine was disrupted utterly by that thud against their door.
It was only one, but one was enough.
Morgan knew good and well that knocks in the morning, on their own door, did not hold pleasant surprises. If it wasn’t a robot messenger here to deliver an ominous package, it was some mystery person begging for help. Like some private detective series, it seemed like every single time Morgan tried to do anything in their life, it was upended by a brand-new case for them to solve. Even if all they wanted to do was go to work.
They abandoned their tie to let it sit half-done against their chest, and went over to the front door. It could have been a gun-toting criminal or a Cybermancer with a power glove full of pain, but it didn’t matter; they weren’t going to be opening any doors with hesitation, because it was way too early in the morning for that level of caution.
They opened the door, and…
It wasn’t a person.
Just a giant green vine, swaying in the wind.
Morgan groaned loudly. “My first time not narrating a story, and I’m given a damn vine to deal with.”
It’s not my fault you’re not the narrator, Morgan. Don’t take it out on me. The people spoke: They want to see the real you. Not some overly biased first-person story.
“The real me, fighting, uh, plants.”
“Whatever. I just want this over with so I can clock in.”
Be careful what you wish for.
The giant green vine began to move all on its own, just then. It slithered into the house like a particularly crafty snake, and then in a whip-like flash—
It wrapped itself around Morgan’s right leg.
“Crap,” they muttered.
And that was the last thing they were able to say or do before the vine flung them far off across the city, right in the direction of Peach Towers.
They survived, somehow. Must have been a very strong character shield. But after being thrown right into the sky and flying a mile through the air, then crashing into a window on the same floor as their workplace, Morgan was not so keen to get to their normal secretarial duties at the Atlanta Cares Bank.
Neither was anyone else, though, they quickly realized.
The entire office was empty, all except for Mr. Larkins, who stared at the window with a panicked expression.
“What’s wrong, sir?” Morgan asked.
Mr. Larkins turned to them and instantly sneered. “Your tie’s wrong, that’s what,” they said.
“And, look at the city! It’s in ruins!”
Morgan looked out the window and got their first actual glimpse of Atlanta since being chucked through it:
It was vines.
All was vines, and vines were all.
Every building, every tree, every sidewalk was covered in thick greenery, as far as the eye could see.
Morgan gasped. “What the…”
“Kudzu,” Mr. Larkins answered. “It’s all kuzdu. Always has been.”
This would normally be the moment where a gun was raised up to Morgan’s forehead and they’d be sent right to isekai LitRPG world after an encounter with a perky Goddess. But instead, nothing greeted them with any kind of solace. Just more vines growing into the office from the broken window.
“The stuff’s been extinct for twenty years, I thought,” Morgan said. “We won the war.”
“Apparently not.” Larkins shook his head mournfully. “I remember the war. I fought in the war, you know. They teach in schools that it was a civil war between parts of the United States. But they’ve been lying to you all. I know the truth.”
“The truth…” They didn’t believe this. Couldn’t believe it.
“We weren’t fighting each other. We were fighting the kudzu. Entire states were overrun, but we figured out the kudzu’s secret weakness. It was—“
A rogue patch of vines grabbed ahold of Larkins and covered his mouth. Then his entire body. Soon, in the spot where Morgan’s boss once stood was nothing but kudzu.
Morgan took a few steps back. Yes, they had a healing factor that could help them survive almost anything, but “almost anything” certainly didn’t include suffocation via vines.
“I really don’t want to die from plants,” they said to themself.
Vines, not plants. You shouldn’t call them plants. It’s more like they are all part of one extremely big plant.
“What, are they a fungus now?”
You act like the author knows anything about science.
“To be fair, I don’t either,” they said. “But I know someone who does. Vines, take me to R8PR’s penthouse!”
A vine, again, wrapped around Morgan’s ankle and tossed them straight up into the air. For a second they entered the upper atmosphere, able to see the stars in space and the vast greenness of Atlanta below them. It was beautiful.
Then they came crashing down like a human-sized meteor and collided with Peach Towers on the roof, directly above R8PR’s penthouse.
When Morgan was conscious again, surprisingly not hurt whatsoever despite literally entering free-fall territory, they found their robot companion staring up at them with a neutral expression.
“Funny you dropped by,” R8PR said, “because I was just about to call you.”
“Oh yeah, how come?” Morgan got up and dusted themself off.
“Well, I had a feeling you’d leave your house without even tying your tie, for one,” he said, pointing at Morgan. “For two, I thought you’d be interested to meet my new friend.”
“You’re not, uh, interested in all that stuff going on outside?” they asked.
R8PR winked. “I’m inorganic. Kudzu doesn’t bother me one bit.”
“I’m half-inorganic, and it bothers me a ton.”
“So I guess it bothers everyone else two tons?”
“I mean… you’re half-organic, half-inorganic. If the weight of botherment is zero for me, a full inorganic, and it’s a ton to you, a halfling, then surely it’s two tons to full organics. Right? It’s mathematics.”
“This is one of the worst things ever published in the depths of this horrible web series,” Morgan said, despite knowing full well that nothing would ever sink deeper in all of ATL: Stories from the Retrofuture than that time they acted like a fool in front of Jimmy Carter. “That’s rude and a lie and you know it! Stop putting words in my mouth via narration!”
“Who the hell are you talking to, Morgan?” R8PR asked.
Yeah, you are you talking to? Me, the narrator?
“I cannot do that, and I will not do that,” said Morgan’s love interest, the robot.
“He’s not my love interest!”
R8PR enters fact mode. “Kudzu is a plant native to Japan, which is of course that wonderful place where Karina currently resides.”
“Okay, so we’re in a time when Karina is still in Japan. Thanks for answering; I was wondering when in the continuity this story is actually supposed to take place, even if it’s some non-canon bonus thing designed mostly to tide people over while my Dog Days in Hotlanta adventure continues to get delayed further and further and our once-rabid readerbase dwindles slowly.”
“We don’t have any readers left, Morgan,” R8PR corrects. “So this is more like an exercise in sheer gusto.”
“I don’t know what that means.”
But the robot ignores them. “Kudzu, also known as the Japanese arrowroot, or scientifically Pueraria montana, was first brought to the American South in the late 1800s as a so-called miracle crop. It was said to grow easily, provide cheap and easy food for animals, and prevent soil erosion. But it turned out that everything they thought was wrong, except for that growing easily part. It became an incredibly invasive species, so far into the invasive territory that Georgia established a commission exclusively to deal with the kudzu spread.
“Peanuts, actually, turned out to be the true miracle crop for Georgia and elsewhere, as our dear George Washington Carver often espoused. But it was too late; the kudzu infestation grew and grew. Entire forests became overrun with vines, and all plant life died due to lack of chlorophyll. Many cities were in grave danger of being completely wiped out in agriculture.
“They thought they contained the vines. But actually, the vines contained them. And in the nineties, the kudzu struck first in a vinal war that would ravage the entire continent. Millions perished. The bombardment of California was not due to humans against humans; it was due to a major vine cluster taking root there. The humans thought that sacrificing California could save the rest, and they were almost right.
“But even one vine left alive is enough to spread. And many vines survived the California attacks. Soon enough, there were six theaters of war and the humans were losing all of them.
“That’s where the records end, though. The vines were defeated in the end. The kudzu race lost. The entire species was eradicated. But the method with which they did it was lost to time. Obscured by those who did it, so that no one could ever repeat the horrific actions they took against the kudzu.”
“That’s a lot of exposition for a plant,” Morgan said.
“Not plants,” he replied. “Vines.”
“But now the kudzu is back. Now the entire city has been conquered, and nobody knows why or how.”
“And let me guess, I need to stop it?”
“No. Actually, I don’t care about that at all. Vines like me. And I like vines. Look at my new friend!” R8PR snapped, and then a bundle of vines came walking into the room. A humanoid shape, but made entirely out of kudzu.
The exact same form and figure of R8PR himself. But with vines.
R8PR waved his hand.
The vine waved as well.
“I call it V8PR,” he said. “The next step in robot evolution. It has a mutli-threaded core processor made entirely of organic matter. Such small micro-vines that can accomplish the same thing as a metallic computer with half the effort. It’s still a prototype, but I imagine that once it reaches self-sufficiency, it will finally learn how to make copies of itself. Then we can spread out our hyper-intelligent vine lifeforms across the entire world!”
V8PR nods in agreement.
“I gotta get out of this place,” Morgan said to themself. “This is crazy. I can’t deal with vines right now. I just need a little vacation, then I can stop hallucinating and everything will go back to normal.”
As if granting a partial request, a vine yet again took ahold of Morgan and flung them out the window, this time so hard they flew across the entire planet.
The sandy shores of Tahara, Aichi-ken.
That was where, eventually, Morgan washed up on the beach and spat out a whole lot of sea water.
Guess who was there?
Yeah, it was Karina. It was exceedingly obvious what was going to happen here. I mean, really.
Karina looked down at Morgan, still laying on their elbows on the beach, tiny waves crashing against their legs. And she shook her head. “Well, well, well. What do we have here?”
“Your tie’s undone.”
“Can we just make out now?” they asked.
“We’re not dating, you know.”
“I know, but I kind of got the feeling that the next time we meet, we’d make out and probably do some hanky-panky and all that.”
“With the vines raging on all around us? Hardly!” Karina scoffed. “You think too highly of yourself.”
“What? What does that even mean?”
“I’m not letting you touch any part of me, you ladykiller, until the kudzu is dealt with.” Immediately after saying this, she extended her hand and pulled Morgan up onto their feet.
“My suit’s covered in sand… Gross…”
Karina beckoned over to a large pedestal with a bright green button.
“Press this button and all the kudzu dies forever,” she told them.
Morgan was taken aback. “All of it? One button press, and that’s it? It’s that easy?”
“Japan is disaster prepared,” she explained. “We’ve dealt with the kudzu menace many times before. So we have a system to kill them all instantly every time they rise up.”
“But that’s… vinocide.”
“Don’t you want to kiss me, Morgan?” she asked. She puckered her lips in a pouty position. “Don’t you want Atlanta to be safe from the viney menace?”
“Yeah, of course, but… How do I know this button won’t have some unintended side-effect?”
“Well, it has one that you might not like.”
Uh-oh. “…What is it?”
“It ends the story.”
“The story. It ends if I press the button.”
“So if I press that, the vines are all gone, but also we’re stuck in a stasis of fiction and can no longer progress?”
“But then I can’t kiss you and touch your boobs or whatever, since the story will already be over.”
Karina’s eyebrows shot up. “I guess you’re right. But if you time it right, then none of that will matter.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you could step right up close to me, then start making out with me the exact second you press the button. That way you’ll sort of be kissing me and touching my boobs for the rest of eternity, so long as nobody accidentally writes a second chapter of this stupid kudzu story.”
“I guess that’s one way to look at it,” Morgan said. “Are you sure this will work?”
“Nope, but it’s the only way to defeat the vines and also score with me.”
“Well then, for the sake of the world and also fanservice, I’ll have to do it.”
They stepped up to the pedestal and extended their arm out. Their hand hovered over the button. They gulped.
Karina stepped up close to them and puckered out her lips for a kiss.
This was it.
Finally, the moment was here.
Then Morgan accidentally pressed the button a second too early and the story ended.