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Meeting at the Giant Mushroom

by Jeremy Parker

Lisa Kendrick brushed down her smart, grey skirt suit, then smoothed her perfectly styled hair. Pausing, she checked her makeup and gave her hair a second glance, then she nodded, satisfied that she still looked like she’d just stepped out of a salon. Then she stopped and thought. Then she sat down.

“I’m overdressed,” she told herself. Damn. She hadn’t wanted to fret, but there she was, fretting. She wanted to impress but she was probably going about it in completely the wrong way.

And then again, what difference did it make anyway? Nobody would care. No, correction, nothing would care. Or would it? I mean or would he? I mean would she? I don’t even know what the preferred pronoun is!

She felt sick. To calm her nerves, Lisa looked around at the city she had arrived in.

She observed that the sun shone down on white walkways where people ambled contentedly in all directions. Every now and then a bicycle rider weaved in and out of the pedestrians, but mostly they had their own cycleways to travel on. As she looked up, she saw a tramway suspended above the ground and heard the regular electric whir as one of the long trains would pass above her. It was indeed the method of travel that she had used to arrive in the city just a few hours ago.

Being a city, of course, there were skyscrapers. Most of these large buildings were residential now, although there were still some which were used for business purposes. But they were very different from how they used to be: every tower was a vertical forest, a lush finger of greenery that reached into the blue sky; buildings that truly lived and helped to make the air in the city sweet and healthy.

And the skyscrapers weren’t the only place where vegetation flourished. It could have been said that the city itself was almost like a forest, with almost as many tall trees as there were people. With gardens and allotments that adorned every level of the metropolis, from the ground level to the highest spire. And with the flora came the fauna, and the constant hum of pollinator insects and birdsong was like having a regenerative companion in your sojourn through the day.

Lisa felt her spirit lighten somewhat with the sights and sounds that she experienced in that moment. She reminded herself of the job she had before, and what made her leave. She reminded herself of how much more wholesome the job in which she was engaged now was. It was the uncertainty that got to her. This meeting…

Lisa checked her watch. Plenty of time yet. Her timekeeping had always been impeccable. Today especially.

Revel in the uncertainty. That’s what her self help book had told her. Yes, revel in it. And what could be more uncertain than… She quelled the feeling of sickness that arose again within her.

Quickly, she stood up and began to walk again. Where was the meeting place? Next to the Heisenberg Memorial control centre she reminded herself.

Oh yes, she wanted to see that.

Lisa stood beneath the Heisenberg Memorial control centre and gawped. The control centre was shaped like the half cross-section of a pyramid, thousands of feet tall, with dark windows unbroken by any of the vegetation that grew around the other buildings in the city. In many ways it was a call back to the “futurism” of times gone past, which was a strange thought to contemplate. Its lofty pinnacle also leaned forward somewhat, giving an observer the alarming impression it was about to fall over on them.

But it wasn’t just the imposing sight of the Heisenberg building itself that took the breath away, it was how it reflected what lay beyond it. It was in the sky: the orbital particle accelerator that surrounded the planet. The Heisenberg particle accelerator.

The orbital particle accelerator had changed the view of the sky above Earth. In a sense, it had changed this small rocky planet into a mini version of Saturn. It now had a celestial ring surrounding it - but this ring was man-made, artificial. The orbital ring glinted in the sunlight: a series of circular metallic globules linked together in a chain. It was, by some distance, the biggest particle accelerator yet constructed by humanity.

But what was its purpose?

As in earlier particle accelerators, its purpose was, partially, to discover further subatomic fragments that would unlock the mysteries of existence. And it was also to help find a way to the elusive secret of nuclear fusion, and unlimited energy, which everyone was assured was now only forty years away. Finally, it was an experiment in scale. Could a celestial machine like this really work? If the answer was discovered to be yes, then this was the first step in a journey of cosmic engineering that could culminate in the construction of a Dyson Sphere: an orbital ring that would surround, and draw energy from, the Sun itself. And in that heady, far off future, humanity would have climbed the Kadashev scale to become a type two civilisation. That is, of course, if the Earth wasn’t first sucked into a black hole that would appear the moment that particle accelerator was activated, thought Lisa gloomily.

With that thought she turned around to regard the neighbouring building, which, if anything, was even more remarkable. As high as the Heisenberg Memorial Control centre reached, the Giant Mushroom reached even higher. And where the Control Centre tapered to its pyramidic apex, the great cap of the mushroom spread out across the sky, seeming to form a great parasol over its parent city. Lisa looked towards the underside of the huge cap, and saw that the gills of the mushroom were composed of luminous, blue, coruscating filaments that constantly changed shape, and she had cause to wonder what these patterns would look like at night, instead of in the bright, sunlit morning as she saw them now.

Three quarters of the way up the supporting stalk of the Giant Mushroom bulged outwards. This, Lisa understood from her brief reading on the subject, was the Ring, and was a leftover from the initial growth phase of the mushroom. Down the stem of the mushroom there were many “windows”, similar to the manner of an office building; though these were not windows of glass but places where the skin of the mushroom had been rendered transparent. Because there were people working inside this mushroom, just as people would work inside an office.

This was the location where Lisa was going to have her meeting. She was meeting with the owner of the building, who was in fact the building. She was going inside the building to meet with the building. She was going to consult on fungal matters with a fungus in a fungus. She was - Never mind.

Then Lisa noticed, to her surprise, that it was snowing. Or at least it seemed like snow; but the descending flakes she saw were in fact spores, falling gently from the gills of the mammoth pileate. These spores had created a small forest of more standard sized mushrooms that formed a perimeter around their giant parent. Despite this, there was a path with straight edges that ran up to the entrance. With one glance back at the Heisenberg Control Centre, Lisa walked towards this entrance humming to herself.

“Just suppose I Juxtapose with you…”

Since humanity had made a breakthrough in communications with both animal, plant and fungi it had entered a new musical renaissance. But it was still nice to listen to the old songs sometimes. The interior of the Giant Mushroom was pristine, adorned with pastel colours and reassuringly like a conventional office. The only spark of dissimilarity was the piped music, which, despite being soothing, was not the usual bland background fare, but had an elusive, slightly alien quality. Lisa’s nerves would have been ameliorated if she was comfortable with what she was going to ask of reception. Thrive on uncertainty, she kept telling herself, repeating the platitude from her self help book.

The receptionist looked up at her and smiled, “how can I help you today?” he asked in a welcoming tone.

Okay just come straight out with it she thought. “I have an appointment with - ” an involuntary pause “- the big mushroom.”

The receptionist regarded her, his eyebrow raised quizzically, “You mean the Giant Mushroom, right?” he asked her.

“Er, righ-”

“That’s fine,” said the receptionist smoothly. He looked down at his screen and accessed the mycorrhizal intranet, “The Giant Mushroom is manifesting for external appointments in room 111.38 today.” He pointed towards a wide, pristine walkway, “the lift is through there, past the barista.”

“Thank you,” Lisa acknowledged, trying to sound casual and not knowing if she had succeeded. As she turned to follow the receptionist’s directions, it crossed her mind that a coffee might help. So she paused by the barista, who stood behind a shiny gold counter, with a slick-looking drinks-making machine behind him.

“Do you sell… actual coffee?” she asked the barista, feeling stupid even as she uttered the question. His reply, however, made her feel somewhat vindicated. “We sell a facsimile of coffee composed of fungal matter,” the barista told her.

“Oh… “ Lisa quelled a grimace. “Do you mind if I try a sample?” she requested. “Not at all.” The barista held out a mouthful of the “coffee” in a reusable sample-sized cup. Lisa accepted the proffered cup and raised it to her lips gingerly. Then she raised her eyebrows, pleasantly surprised. It was pretty good. “I’ll take one!” she declared.

It briefly flashed through Lisa’s mind that once upon a time she would have said “I’ll buy one”. That always made her feel strange for some reason.

But money had been phased out long before.

With a nod and a smile, the barista prepared her beverage, causing noises to come from the drinks machine that sounded like any traditional coffee machine. Before he handed over the drink he gave Lisa another option: “shot of CBD?”

That gave her pause for thought: her tensions would certainly be eased with some CBD in her drink. “Er… no thank you,” she decided. Lisa took her cup and made for the lift. Right then, room 111.38.

That sounds high.

It sounds really high. It was as high as it sounded. Lisa looked outwards briefly from the window - or from the transparent material that approximated a window - but did not look for long as a dizzy spell made her turn away.

Okay, now to find room 111.38 -

As these thoughts passed through her mind, Lisa realised she was standing in front of a door labelled MEETING ROOM 111.38. The lettering of the room number seemed to glow blue with its own internal light.

Well, that was handy. From the lift to the dizzying view, to the meeting room. If her path had been chosen for her, maybe this is what her host might have planned. Hesitantly, she gave the door a knock.

For a moment nothing happened, and the waters of uncertainty felt like they were closing above her head.

And then the colouring of the room number’s glow changed to green.

This simple transition caused a sense of calm to descend upon Lisa. And without another thought she opened the door of the meeting room and walked in. Is it possible to look lovingly at a mushroom?

Lisa couldn’t help but wonder this as she glanced at the pileate next to her, which was a scale 1.5 metre replica of The Giant Mushroom that they were inside. It had exactly the same cap, skirt and gills, the same simulated windows and it even released spores in the same manner. Of course, this scale replica of the Giant Mushroom also was the Giant Mushroom itself: or rather a manifestation of the massive fungi.

The office was dimly lit and filled with the progeny of the Giant Mushroom’s “Mini Mes”, though they seemed to keep a respectful distance from Lisa. Suspended in the air in front of them was a large vector holograph representation of the Planet Earth, generated by the Wood Wide Web that bathed the room in an orange and green glow. This orange and green light combined with the blue filaments of the mushroom’s gills to produce a flickering rainbow in the meeting area.

Highlighted on the virtual orb was an area of the planet that was the subject of discussion, and as it transpired, agreement between fungi and human.

“So, we will cooperate thus:” intoned the mushroom, in a quiet and thoughtful, yet slightly distracted voice that seemed distant, and simultaneously everywhere, “Your commune will settle in this area -” the highlighted area on the holographic Earth started to flash - “a legacy pollution area with chemical impairment including benzene, naphthalene and asbestos. “Therefore, in exchange for providing the best growth conditions needed for fungi in that region, we will come in and clean your pollution.”

“And it’s as simple as that?” asked Lisa in a bemused tone.

“What were you expecting?” the pileate asked, a hint of amusement in its voice, “I’m a mushroom, not a monster!”

Lisa shook her head, but inside she was elated. “Well, if our business is successfully concluded, I suppose I can express my gratitude and go,” she declared.

“But before you leave you have a question,” the mushroom observed.

The fungi’s perceptiveness was unnerving, but Lisa felt comfortable enough to say what was on her mind. “I wondered what your thoughts were on your neighbour, the Heisenberg Control centre,” she asked.

The pileate was silent for a few moments. “Humanity has caused much damage in its time upon the Earth,” it observed eventually.

“It has,” Lisa agreed sadly.

“And yet, to your credit, you have recognised your faults, and worked to mitigate them,” the mushroom continued, “And besides this, perhaps the Universe has a purpose for humanity beyond anything we currently understand. To search for the known unknowns of existence, and even the unknown unknowns.

“This quality you have,” it mused, “curiosity: I find it curious. Perhaps we will discuss this in more depth at some point.”

“I would like that,” she replied.

“Good,” the mushroom decided. “Farewell then Lisa Kendrick, for now.”

“Farewell,” Lisa echoed. As she headed for the lift, Lisa looked out to the heavens through the simulated window. There was the particle accelerator, searching for unknown unknowns, as down on Earth, humanity was finally coming to an understanding with its fellow terrestrial beings.

Maybe things weren’t so bad after all.