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Mar 27, 2013

Self-portrait, Snake on a Plane
Oil painting, c. 1482-1484
Leonardo DaVinci (1452-1591)

gently caress it. Got four days at home for the first time in a month, may as well spend it writing for the internet.

In with Gardenpunk.


Mar 27, 2013

Self-portrait, Snake on a Plane
Oil painting, c. 1482-1484
Leonardo DaVinci (1452-1591)

Prompt: Gardenpunk

Mushrooms in London
1487 words

The garden was dark and moist, like usual. Some cities could depend constant sunshine to provide a steady stream of glucose. Fresno out in California, for example. More than two hundred days of sun per year, no harsh winters to kill the primaries, and enough water flowing down from the mountains to keep it all going. Land, too, was easy for them. The west coast had gotten settled after the Glucose Revolution, and so they’d been able to pick and choose their locations, take as much land as necessary, and build whatever they needed to.

So they got off easy in the power game. Fruits and vegetables were their primaries. The gardens were wide and spread out, making maintenance easy, with efficient and modern glucose distribution grids. And, naturally, it all added up to an attractive vista overlooking miles of bright green trees and vines, so the tourists even paid for it. And this was to say nothing of the great Pacific empires like Hawaii.

Not so in London. Less than seventy bright days per year, tight urban centers with limited space, and antiquated power vines still left over from the first generation. We had a few different power systems running to handle the load. But the hemovores weren’t reliable as a primary source, and the eggheads in the lab still hadn’t gotten the thermophiles quite nailed down. So while the techies in California got tans working outside under the trees, I got pale and damp working with mushrooms underground.

“Ed. We’ve got something weird going on down in Layer Four. Rack Twelve is going haywire,” Jacob Murphy said. My chair pulled me over to take a sniff. Like me, he’d been recruited pretty much straight out of tech school. But while he’d spent his childhood working as a monitor in a light algae plant, I’d spent my time engineering mushrooms in the back of my closet. I’d made my first micro plant at the age of twelve. We may technically be equals, but he usually left the hands-on inspection to me, and I depended on him to check the readers.

This was Glucose Power Garden Seven, Subdivision Three. Right in the heart of London bioindustry, responsible for metric tons of light algae, growth elastomers, and biomorphic materials every day. Continuous, uninterrupted sugars was more than just a luxury. It was a necessity. A five percent decrease in glucose production for fifteen minutes could starve plants and cost millions of calories of damage.

And so here I was. Edward Hunter, Glucose Technician Second Class, in charge of keeping everything stable and running. I took a quick sniff of the room before examining Jacob’s console. Just the barest hints of the rot that would tell us when output started to drop. But as hard experience had taught us, once glucose started to drop, it always kept going.

The aroma coming from the algae scentsors was spicy, and sweet, and a bit bitter. My eyes started watering. By itself, spicy would mean that the water was low, while sweet might tell me that there wasn’t enough nitrogen. But bitter indicated that the environment was too moist. Put together, they were pretty much meaningless.

“What do the displays say?” This was something new for us, only in the three months, and it was still second nature to check the scentsors before we looked at the bioluminescent algae. Personally, I doubted them. Smell had been the standard data output for glucose plants for hundreds of years, ever since the Glucose Revolution.

“They’re all over the place, I can’t understand it. We’ve got purple, and yellow, and brown. And-” Full color displays required complicated glucose layouts to power every algae color individually. It was still common for osmosis leaks to screw up the colors.

“Yeah, yeah,” I cut him off. I took another deep wiff. It was hard to pin it down, exactly, but something about this smelled good. “I’m going down to go take a look.”


The plant was a sandwhich of oddly shaped layers that had been crammed into whatever space was available. It was nearly pitch black inside, with only a faint glow from the control room. The plant operated on thin enough margins as it was: no sense in wasting glucose on light algae. Techs got used to it over time, they had to. By the time I’d been here six months I could navigate the whole place with my eyes closed.

I could have taken the lift down. But high capacity growth-elastomers were slow. There was, simply, no avoiding that, not without burning prodigious amounts of glucose. Maybe in California, they could have swung it. Yes, I’m bitter. Most places, stairs would even be an option, but space was at too much of a premium here. We had ladders, and we had the lifts, and those only because we sometimes needed to move heavy equipment.

So instead I bungee jumped. Shift the lift up a floor, strap my vinestubs to the bottom, adjust their glucose intake to give the right length, and down the hole I went. The vines grew up until they ran out of energy, stretched to the limits of their dynamic elastomers, then sprang me back up, right to the fourth level. Of course, I’d have to take the long route back up.

I slapped the glucose drip for the light algae, giving the ceiling a slight glow just barely enough to navigate by. The layers were closely packed. Power density was priority one. I was short, less than 150 centimeters, due to the low protein diets common in this poor country. And yet, I still had to crouch slightly to traverse the narrow passageways. Mushrooms were stacked in racks on both sides. Water was kept up with a gentle mist from the top of the facility. That, at least, England had enough of, probably the only reason it was inhabited at all any more.

Still, it hadn’t prevented the city from being in steady decline over the four hundred years since the Glucose Revolution. Government inertia kept the English leadership centered here, but that once vast empire was slowly starving to death, outpaced by the faster solar-driven economies of Africa, Australia, and the Pacific Islands. There was only so much you could power off of mushrooms. We boasted tons of biomass production, enough to provide basic necessities for the people. Honolulu could handle kilotons singlehandedly.

The problem rack was easy to spot. Something was wrong with the light algae. It glowed in pulsing patches rather than the steady light of the rest of the installation. I pulled the rack out, and took a sniff at the scentsors.

“Woah,” I said out loud. Something there was strong, and definitely not normal. I saw colors pulse even in the darkness. “What the hell is going on here?”

First steps first, though. Contain the spread. I disconnected the glucose lines from the rack, then pulled it all the way off the shelf. I pulled a seed from one of my shirt pockets, and shoved it into the center of the rack. Suddenly immersed in a high-sugar environment, it grew rapidly into a tight sheet wrapping around the tray and isolating it. Setting it down on the ground, I examined the trays next to it. Still smelled normal. Good. We could manage down a tray for a few hours until I could diagnose exactly what was wrong with this one, but we couldn’t have managed a whole line getting knocked out.


Upstairs, the rack was even weirder.

“What the hell are those?” Jacob asked me. The mushrooms were definitely not standard-issue glucose generators. The typical type we grew was whitish brown. No sense wasting energy on aesthetics. These were bright red, spotted with white.

I leaned back to consider. I already knew what they were. Somehow, a whole rack of glucose mushrooms had gotten swapped for a different variety: psilocybins. But how had they gotten there? Only one real possibility: one of the techies had planted them.

I already knew it wasn’t me. And Jacob didn't have a good enough poker face to be able to pull this off and still act the fool in front of me. Still, there were a couple other techs who could have tried to profit off the farm.

The reaction the company would take was simple. Figure out who planted them, fire them, and make sure they never worked again. For an infraction of this sort, it would hardly be overkill. The effect this one missing tray had was so minimal on production that it was barely noticeable, but the psilocybins were more than just a replacement for that rack that didn’t generate glucose. The chemicals they leached screwed up the scentsors, the light algae, and could have poisoned the whole garden.

Jacob nudged me. “Hey, Ed. What are they?”

I looked back at him. “Psilocybins. Magic mushrooms.”

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