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A Million Golden Fungi

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“It appears to be rotting,” Alan Jonah said.

Maybe rot wasn’t the right word. He’d seen quite a few forms of rot in his time, and none looked quite like this. He expected maggots, bloating, discoloration; not this… fungus? Something fungal-like, at any rate, deforming and pushing out the great dragon’s scales. And the stench was all wrong for natural decay.

But there was a stench. Oh, lord, was there a stench.

“I doubt Earth organisms have evolved to rot an alien corpse,” said Dr. Matheo “Matt” Fiez, with some disdain.

Jonah gave them an exasperated look. Dr. Matt Fiez was the latest addition to his little crew. They were a biologist of some form; based on their name, their accent, and their complexion, Jonah suspected they were Swiss. Perhaps Norwegian. He didn’t know; he had no idea where half of his followers came from, secretive as they tended to be. He tried not to let it bother him. What did bother him was how Dr. Fiez seemed far more interested in the monster itself than in what Jonah’s organization intended to do with it.

But, then, was that not why Jonah had hired them?

“I doubt Earth organisms have evolved to eat an alien corpse either, but I didn’t notice Godzilla suffering any indigestion from swallowing Monster Zero’s other head,” Jonah said. “Or perhaps it’s being rotted by some alien bacteria it carries to Earth with it or some such, I don’t know, nevertheless I think we can both agree that it’s rotting, hmm?” He gestured impatiently at the massive head. “Which means it’s likely too far past its expiration date to do us any good.”

They’d put it on ice too late to preserve it, no doubt. Or perhaps they hadn’t been able to freeze it all the way through and it was rotting from the center out. Dr. Fiez had objected to attempting to freeze it at all, concerned it could damage the tissue and convinced it would be fine without it. Some expert they were. Even with the ice they’d lost their most valuable titan specimen.

Jonah gave the head one last frustrated look—the surface of its scales were warped in what looked like the beginnings of mushrooms—then let out a frustrated sigh. “Get to work arranging a way to dispose of it—”

“He still has brain activity,” Dr. Fiez said.

Jonah blinked. “I beg your pardon?”

“He might be decaying on the outside—if that’s what this is, decay—but his mind is still firing. He isn’t rotten all the way through. He isn’t even dead.

“I—w—” For a moment, Jonah was at a loss for words. “And when were you going to share this revelation?”

“When it became important instead of merely interesting. I thought that preventing the head from being thrown out counted,” Dr. Fiez said. “If he is rotting, clearly he’s too big to rot all at once. There might be damage on the surface, but if part of him is still alive—”

“Yes—fine. We’ll keep it. But next time, tell me if it does anything interesting.”

Dr. Fiez nodded and smiled.

Jonah didn’t quite trust that smile.

###

Life was coming back to the cities that had been ravaged by titan attacks.

Not necessarily the kind of life that anyone wanted. In many cases, not human life. Often not even animal life. Just rampant, unrestricted plant life, very often in places where such abundant plant life had never grown before and ecologically should not grow. Armchair environmental activists who thought the recent devastating loss of life was some sort of net plus crowed about forests rising out of deserts, while ecologists nervously pointed out that there shouldn’t have been forests in the deserts in the first place.

But nobody liked what was happening in Boston.

In Boston, as everywhere else, pale little white sprouts had emerged from the ground just a few days after the devastating battle.

But everywhere else, the little sprouts grew leaves, turned green, turned into vibrant verdant life.

In Boston, anything that turned green withered and died. The only things that flourished were the pallid white sprouts, growing ever taller, gradually looking less like new plants and more like fungus—long, slender stalks of mushroom with narrow, cone-shaped caps.

A map of the new sprouts was plotted: someone discovered that the new sprouts were found spraying out in the direction that Godzilla had been facing when he’d incinerated Ghidorah’s final head, along the path where the ashes would have fallen.

Every time the sun came out, the fungi got taller and thicker: most of them like long grass that tickled just below the knee, a great many of them as tall as an adult human, and a few already as tall as telephone poles.

And then stalactite-like structures began dripping down from the edges of the pseudo mushroom caps. Stalactite-like… or horn-like; as if each mushroom was a miniature reptilian head pointed toward the sky.

And then the fungi started to turn gold.

And then they grew eyes.

###

Jonah watched the news coming out of Boston obsessively.

It had always been his intent to purge Earth of human life. Humans did not deserve this planet—humans were a parasite.

But he didn’t much like the idea of turning the planet over to just another parasitic species. If the sprouts in Boston were what he feared they were—if those millions upon millions of little mushrooms all had the potential to grow as large as Monster Zero…

It wouldn’t just be humans that were wiped off the Earth.

Jonah could accept some native Earth species being driven to extinction in his crusade against humanity. But he didn’t want them all dead.

The fungi growing out of the head under his control were smaller than the largest in Boston, but many were four feet long and a few were eight. All of them were the same dirty brassy gold of the head they’d spawned from—no time wasted being pale white. Sometimes, if he stared at them long enough, he could see them very slowly twisting and writhing. Sometimes when someone entered the room where they were stored, he could swear they turned toward the new arrival.

“We’ve got to get rid of it before it becomes a plague,” Jonah told Dr. Fiez. “And go help out Boston, most likely—I don’t care if we have to nuke the damn city, lord knows the Americans won’t have the guts to do that on their own turf—but first we need to deal with our own.”

“I suggest we burn them,” Dr. Fiez said.

Jonah gave Dr. Fiez a surprised look. “Do you? And here I was sure you’d fight to preserve Monster Zero.” He’d almost begun to think they were among the daft fools that had begun worshiping the titans, they regarded their specimen so reverently.

“It’s clear that, if left unchecked, they could overrun the world,” Dr. Fiez said. “We know that they can still grow even when frozen. Chopping them up does no good—”

“Does it not? How do you know?”

Dr. Fiez blinked. “Boston,” they said. “I’m in contact with some biologists there who have taken… trimmings of the new growths. They simply keep growing. Some spawn additional heads from the point they were cut.”

“Additional heads. How wonderful.”

“And so burning them is the only option.”

Jonah nodded slowly. “It’ll be quite a conflagration. We’ll have to abandon the facility.”

“It will be worth it.”

“Mm. I’ll see how much gas we can get here.”

"We don’t know how flammable Ghidorah is. It might be a good idea to add wood to the fire.”

“Wood?”

“And perhaps knock out a wall first to ensure the fire gets enough oxygen.”

"A proper funeral pyre. You’ve put some thought into this.” Enough that it made him uneasy, when so recently Dr. Fiez had been so eager to keep their beloved specimen alive. 

Dr. Fiez smiled wanly. “I knew you’d be asking me to kill them soon.”

It seemed they both understood each other. “Then let’s get to work. We have a fine cremation to prepare for our friend Monster Zero.”

###

In Boston, scans of the caps of the tallest fungi revealed a row of hardening internal structures that they feared were teeth.

At Jonah’s isolated facility, all their equipment and supplies had been packed into a caravan of SUVs and removed in anticipation of the fire that would destroy this site. The caravan parked far enough away that they could watch the low, unassuming building by binoculars as it went up in flames.

A cell phone signal set off the incendiary charges in the room with Monster Zero’s head, which had been packed with the dry fallen trees and branches. It wasn’t long until they saw flames shooting through the three skylights that had been blown into the roof.

And then, from amidst the flames, an arc of golden light. And then another.

Like molten glass hardening as it was removed from a kiln and shaped by a glassmaker, the soft white tubes of fungal flesh grew firmer, their edges sharper, their outer layer darker and shining metallic. Thin phlegmy films stretched and tore as bones tore free, only to be covered in new skin. Almost like…

Almost like when Monster Zero had regrown its missing head on Isla de Mara, standing in a pool of fire.

Oh, Jonah was a fool.

More new necks shot out, many with charred black trunks and branches sticking out of the soft fungal flesh. The dead trees were absorbed into the neck before scales formed.

Its regrow the was powered by fire. The physical matter needed to fuel its growth came from the trees. The only thing that slowed it down had been ice.

Jonah turned to look at Dr. Fiez.

Dr. Fiez was beaming gloriously, like a true believer listening to their favorite hymn.

“What have you done?” Jonah demanded. “Why?

“You consider yourself an environmentalist of sorts, don’t you?” Dr. Fiez asked. “You care so much about your planet’s ecosystem.”

‘Your’?”

Somehow, it had never occurred to Jonah until now to consider the full implications of the fact that Monster Zero was an alien.

Such as to wonder how it had gotten here.

Or whether there were more.

“When I asked to join your organization, I wasn’t lying when I said it was because I’m something of a radical environmentalist myself,” said Dr. Matt Fiez. “But the interconnected ecosystem I concern myself with is a bit more interstellar than yours.”

A hundred necks, necks like spiraling ribbons, necks like writhing tentacles, burst from the building; then the noise of wings, like standing in the middle of a murder of crows as it took off, or like standing in a dark cavern as a colony of bats awoke overhead. Static cracked in the air; the sky darkened with clouds. The first few bolts of lighting shot from the glittering writhing new creatures into the heavens.

In Boston, awoken by a distant psychic signal, millions of fungi a hundred different sizes tore open their new mouths, dragged their wings from the dirt, and roared toward the sky.

At Jonah’s isolated facility, Metphies closed their eyes in rapture, listening to the sound.