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Moving Day

Rich Larson was born in Galmi, Niger, has lived in Canada, USA, and Spain, and is now based in Prague, Czech Republic. He is the author of the novel Annex and the collection Tomorrow Factory, which contains some of the best of his +150 published stories. His work appears in numerous Year's Best anthologies and has been translated into Polish, Czech, French, Italian, Vietnamese, and Chinese. Besides writing, he enjoys traveling, learning languages, playing soccer, watching basketball, shooting pool, and dancing kizomba.

The Sessie is the size of a redwood, a lattice of entwined stalks that tremble and swivel in slow ripples, reaching and retracting. It towers over the rest of the fungal forest. I've seen holos of it, of course, but in real life, viewed from the open fuselage of a quadcopter, it's awesome in the original sense of the word. If we'd found it a few thousand years ago, people would be worshipping it. Now, we're transplanting it.
I adjust the finnicky straps of my oxygen mask and turn to Ripa, who's busy coordinating the other quadcopters. Her Terracorp windbreaker fits a little better than mine does. Behind her mask, her brow is furrowed and determined. This is her operation. All I had to do was sign off, and now I'm here mostly as a formality, to make sure the swarm of media cams around our copter see Terracorp doing its respectful due diligence.
"How old is it?" I ask.
"We asked it," Ripa says. "It didn't know. Carbon dating is useless out here, of course, but our biologists guessed a couple thousand years at least. Impossible to say when it became conscious."
The other quadcopters converge, fitting the harness around the Sessie's midsection. I see some of its little polyps curl and shy away.
"It's incredible," I say.
"Eleven-point-seven on the Yang-Trudel model," Ripa agrees. "Smarter than we are. Potentially." She points down, to where a lumbering reforestation drone is approaching the base of the Sessie. "It's anchored too deep to pull out, so it's been migrating all its neuron nodes upward over the past few months. We're going to cut it at the base. Theoretically, it won't feel a thing."
"Imagine being that smart and stuck in one place for millennia. Hellish."
"I doubt something sessile and immortal gets bored the way we do," Ripa says. "But it's excited now. It wants to see the rest of its world. This is an opportunity it never thought it would get."
"An opportunity for both of us," I say, looking out over the fungal forest with an unfamiliar feeling of hope. "We might finally have the perfect colony world. This continent, at least. It all starts here, right?"
Ripa nods. "As soon as the Sessie is clear," she says. "We clear all this out and reforest it with our best O2 producers. We should be able to get to a breathable atmosphere in under a decade."
"And it won't affect the Sessie," I say. "Right?"
"It's seen fluctuations in the atmosphere before," Ripa says. "Apparently it was already trending toward higher oxygen content. Besides, it's got us taking care of it now." She unrolls a screen and taps in a message: READY?
I look out at the Sessie, particularly at the spot where its polyps meet the electrode webbing our technicians installed for communication. A slow undulation goes through its stalks. On Ripa's screen, a jumble of letters reforms into a single word: YES.
"All right," she says, looking slightly relieved. "It's time."
"It's lucky we ran the tests," I say. "I never would have expected it. You know, a sapient mushroom. It makes you wonder. About...." I trail off, looking out at the rest of the forest. "All of it."
Ripa follows my gaze. "The other fungi?" she asks, misinterpreting my existential unease. "We ran the tests. They average out to a four-point-four on the Yang-Trudel."
I blink. "Four-point-four?" I echo, remembering back to my briefing. "Ripa, that's a dog. A dog is four-point-four."
She gives me a sad kind of smile. "I know. But we have to draw the line somewhere, don't we?"
I imagine the balance: oxygen for a million desperate colonists who were promised a new home versus a forest of fungi that can feel, think, remember. It's already been signed off on.
"We do," I say. "I guess we do."
Down below, the drone's enormous saw roars to life.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, March 23rd, 2020
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