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Spores of Freedom

Jakob Drud has published many stories many places. He's also published previously with Daily Science Fiction, we're pleased to say.

My name is Freedman Gaynor and I am holding a Chagall painting hostage on the roof of Fir Bottom's colonial museum. The Assessors' troops are trying to get through the door to the roof, but I've barricaded it with a few hundred slave hours worth of boards and building materials. Snipers will be aiming at me from opposite buildings, but I'm certain they won't shoot.
The canvas is wrapped around my body like a tortilla protecting me from the Assessors' bullets. If I had hidden behind a slave or a child, they would have calculated the value loss and sacrificed both me and the unlucky hostage, but art is the perfect shield. Extraordinary means valuable, and on a colony world like Fir Bottom, nothing is more extraordinary than items from old Earth.
The rooftops with their water absorbers glitter with rust and beauty in the afternoon sun, and give me courage. The Assessors would never appreciate the sight. To them, every building is valued in slave hours, millions of slave hours. They see only materials, location, furnishing and functionality, value that they alone can assign and value that they can take away if you don't obey.
All that is about to change.
I hear the first media drones buzzing toward the museum. Somewhere, producers and analysts are scrambling to figure out if I'm crazy, or a real threat to the Assessors, or just another run-of-the-mill revolutionary. Their asses are just as much on the line as mine if they handle the story wrong, but scared or not, they'll be showing the drone footage of me wrapped in Chagall's canvas to the public. Every producer knows when something exciting is happening, and as long as the number of harmlessly entertained viewers is high enough, they'll let me talk.
"Assessors, I have a proposal that will increase the number of work hours in Fir Bottom," I shout. "And to everyone else watching? Get ready for a show!"
There, that should make it a public spectacle. It's ironic that my actions right now are generating far more value for our society than any work I did as a slave for the cooperative. The Assessors have determined that one minute of news entertainment is worth as much as a day of slave labor. Of course, they won't have to pay me for services rendered, so I basically work for free. Another reason they'll let me talk.
An Assessor grabs control of a media drone and flies it close enough for me to hear its speakers. "Tell us what you want."
Negotiations, then. Time to baffle the Assessors with something they can't assess.
"I want to be happy!"
Their response is prompt: "You're already rich, Freedman Gaynor. Knowledge and hard work got you released from the farming cooperative. We value your work as a geneticist at six times that of a slave. What more could you want?"
My hand seeks the scars around my neck. They tell the story of punishments meted out by the farming cooperative, but they've faded. I increased my value and bought my way out of the shock collar. Those scars don't matter anymore.
The wound I can't show them is the love I have for my children. Georgia and Gabriel, who are still with the farmers, who are still wearing the collar, who are still collecting scars of their own. The memory of Georgia's baby breath against my neck lives on in my heart. And how could I ever forget how Gabriel used to run circles around me, pretending to be a puppy and yipping at me until I went "woof?" My children are here with me, all right, but their absence has cut a hole in my soul.
Seeing them again is all the happiness I could ask for, but if I say it out loud, the Assessors will no longer think me a harmless attention seeker. I can't let my plan fail, so in the name of entertainment, I sweep my hand outward, away from my scars and take a mock bow for the cameras.
"I want gourmet food," I shout. "Lush, tasty, chewy, flavorsome food. How would you like that, Fir Bottom? Or does your cabbage already taste like gold? Does your barley porridge make you productive?"
I pause to let them think. Not the Assessors, since they're already damn pleased about their chow. No, I want the media folks and the viewers to build a new hunger. To keep watching. To share my words.
"We need mushrooms. Mushrooms for everyone!"
I twirl and lift a pair of scissors to remind the cameras of the painting I can destroy at will.
"Chagall's art ranks among mankind's highest achievements, but mushrooms are the very taste of life. I demand that the Council of Assessors allows everyone to grow mushrooms. Let's make our diet a happy diet."
It's the most ludicrous demand anyone has ever made, and all the more harmless for it. Mushrooms aren't a challenge to the Assessors' wealth or their monopoly of assigning value. On the contrary, well-fed people generate more wealth for their masters.
"That might not be impossible," the controlled drone says, and I take another mock bow.
What the Assessors fail to see is that mushrooms are more than food. The 'shrooms I have engineered are red and spotted white, green as the forest, and pale as death. They're poisonous, hallucinogenic, numbing, deadly, and most importantly, liberating.
With the right kind of hallucination you'll be so zoomed out that the pain inflicted by the slavers won't seem real anymore. Numbed by the right kind of anesthetics you'll have time to break your shock collar before the pain knocks you out. And once you're free, a simple dose of spores will send the guards on a trip to cloud eleven while you poison your masters' water and seed their ventilation systems with venomous spores.
"My friends," I say, "You can start your glorious new culinary life right now. I've put fresh mushroom spawn and substrates in black containers all over the town. Grab a pocketful or two, follow the instructions, and you'll have all the food you need."
All the food, and weapons too.
"Agreed, then," the Assessor-controlled drone says. "We'll allow people to grow mushrooms in exchange for the painting."
They won't, of course. They can never really make a deal with a criminal. My only reason for keeping my request so innocent is that I don't want them to remove the mushroom containers right away. As long as people get a chance to take a few samples, the spores will spread. Like our hatred of the Assessors, mushrooms grow in dark places, and once they're out there's no way the Assessors will contain them.
I start to squirm free of the canvas, knowing that the bullets may fly at any moment. My only fear is that I'll never see Georgia and Gabriel again. But whether I live or die, there are enough smart people on Fir Bottom to know the potential of the mushrooms and their poison. With or without me, my children will be free.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, August 4th, 2017
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