This is chapter seven of our serialisation of Andrew Murray’s Shroom Raider – make sure you check out the earlier chapters on STORGY Kids….also if you have enjoyed this serialisation of Shroom Raiders please do let us know in the comments – or reach out to Andrew Murray on his Twitter here.
Chapter 7 – Shroombiosis
They lined the Platoon up in a queue, and the Weapons Sergeant took each recruit in turn, assessed his size and build, and took from the racks a Shroom-Shooter that would fit him well. Soon it was Icarus’s turn. The Sergeant sized him up, rubbed his chin, and finally settled for a Shooter on a far corner rack. Icarus held out his arms to take it. He felt like he was adopting a weird alien baby.
‘Weapons Sergeant?’, he asked. ‘This Shroombiosis… is it going to hurt?’
The Weapons Sergeant thought for a second.
‘Hurt?’ he echoed. ‘Hmm, hurt’s not exactly the right word… It’s hard to describe before you’ve undergone it. But when you have been through the Shroombiosis, well… then you know. Okay soldier, move along. Next!’
‘That wasn’t much help’, muttered Icarus under his breath as he joined the growing crowd of recruits cradling their new – weapons? Pets? Companions?
And now Icarus took a good long look at his Shooter. It was like an enormous toadstool, with a bulbous body of green and purple shades, covered in warty nodules. At one end a tough bracket fungus fanned out to form the butt – he would lodge this firmly against his shoulder when firing. On the top of the body, just in front of the butt, he could just make out the ‘mouth’ that would open to accept ammunition. For now the mouth was firmly closed, but Icarus could see it twitching slightly. At the other end of the body was the cap, but where a normal toadstool or mushroom would have a cap whose spore-gills faced back towards him, the Shooter’s cap was turned the other way around, a bit like an umbrella turned inside-out, so that the spore-gills would shoot their spores outwards, towards the enemy.
The Spore-Shooter felt slightly warm, and slightly clammy, in Icarus’s hands. It was lighter than he was expecting. But Icarus could also feel, very clearly, that his Shooter was alive…
And then he felt Ethan’s presence , all around him. He hugged the Shooter to his chest, and turned to look at his comrades, with their Shooters. Ethan’s ashes were there, in the soil that fed them, in every cell of their bodies. And Ethan was there too, and Icarus could feel his feelings. He could feel that Ethan desperately yearned for something…
You want us to use these Shooters well. You want us to take the battle to the Enemy, so that never again will a Neufundlander laugh as New Londoners die.
We’ll do that, Ethan. I’ll do that, I promise…
The Weapons Sergeant handed the last recruit a Shooter, and said,
‘All right gentlemen, spread out and find yourselves a bit of space…’
The recruits fanned out, and Icarus found himself next to Biff and Arla.
‘Now’, the Sergeant continued, ‘You are going to begin the process of bonding, personally, with your very own Spore-Shooter. As most of you will know, this process is called Shroombiosis. Your Shooter has the ability to form a symbiotic relationship with its human owner. The way it does this is to reach out with a specialised set of tendrils called psychopalps, which penetrate your skull…’
There was a low murmur of apprehension among the recruits – and Icarus noticed that Arla’s face was turning very pale. Arla saw Icarus looking at her, and forced a laugh.
‘I’m fine, Ick’, she grinned. ‘’Noooo problem…’
‘Quiet…’ growled Sergeant Gus. ‘You ladies quit your whining and listen!’
‘It sounds painful, I grant you’, said the Weapons Sergeant, ‘But the psychopalps administer a strong local anaesthetic to your skin. You’ll certainly feel it, though…’ The Sergeant relished seeing the expressions on his recruits’ faces as he explained all this – expressions that ranged from calm, to concerned, to terrified, to green with nausea. He took a certain mischievous pleasure in noting that this full range of expressions was now apparent among 2nd Platoon. One recruit in particular was turning a spectacular shade of green. Arla…
‘Now, the psychopalps penetrate your skull, generally in the area of your temple, and reach in to form a connection with a part of your brain that processes vision, and deals with hand-eye coordination. They then begin to form a permanent bond with your brain. Once this bond is formed, the Shooter can have no other owner. And the soldier cannot bond with another Shooter unless he undergoes brain surgery. So, gentlemen, understand this loud and clear – take good care of your Shroom-Shooter! Look after it, love it, protect as if it was your own child – and in return it will take good care of you!’
Icarus looked around to see his comrades’ reactions. Some were cradling their Shooters as tenderly as babies. Some were struggling to get to grips with their Shooters, and held them awkwardly. A few held their Shooters away from their bodies, as if disgusted by the strange alien objects they were being forced to embrace.
‘Now gentlemen, let’s begin the process. Take a deep breath, and make yourself calm. Then focus your mind on your Shroom-Shooter. Ignore everything else, just concentrate on your Shooter…’
Icarus took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. It was so hard to block out the rest of the room, all the other recruits with their movement and noise – but Icarus tried hard to concentrate on the Shroom-Shooter in his arms, and nothing else…
Icarus had the feeling that his Shooter could sense him, sense his thoughts, sense that he was focusing his mind upon it. Then he saw a large, pale, bumpy nodule on the side of the body, between the trigger below and the mouth above, start to twitch. Slowly it unravelled itself into a set of black tendrils that reached out like a thin spidery hand, the psychopalps, stretching, testing the air, feeling its way towards… towards Icarus’s head…
His heart pounded in his chest, but he forced himself to stay calm, or as calm as he could manage. And he kept his mental focus on the Shooter and the psychopalps as they felt their way towards his face – even when Arla shrieked, dropped her Shooter on the floor with a leathery plop, and ran in panic.
‘I can’t do it!’ she wailed, ‘I can’t do it, I can’t do it, I can’t do it…’
The Sergeants caught Arla and ushered her back to her place, the Weapons Sergeant talking to her in a soothing voice, Sgt Gus barking at her in less sympathetic tones.
Icarus nearly jumped out of his skin when the first palp touched his temple.
‘Keep breathing’, he told himself. ‘Just stand still, keep breathing, and let this thing do its thing…’
And then Ethan whispered in his ear –
You can do it, Icarus. Just relax, I’m right here with you.
The palps gently stroked against his head, feeling the structure of his skull, looking just for the right spot to…
Icarus felt a great pressure on his temple, as if the most gigantic spot was forcing its way through his skin to the surface. There was a sharp pricking pain at first, but this quickly dulled as the palps’ anaesthetic took speedy effect.
Keep breathing, whispered Ethan.
‘Okay’, said Icarus, ‘Keep breathing… keep breathing…’
He could feel it burrowing into his head… Touching his brain… And then he could feel its mind making contact with his…
‘The psychopalps’, said the Weapons Sergeant, ‘Will form a permanent bond with your brain. Once they have located the visual-motor cortex, they will anchor themselves there. Then small ‘mouths’ on the ends of the palps will dissolve and digest a small part of that cortex. Don’t worry, you will have plenty of cortex, and plenty of brain, left!’
‘I wouldn’t count on that, Weapons Sergeant’, growled Sgt Gus. ‘If it was an IQ contest between some of these bozos against a bunch of mushrooms, frankly my money would be on the shrooms…’
‘Your Shooter absorbs your brain matter into itself. It has a kind of primitive fungal ‘brain’ already – but now it will add your cerebral matter to it, to form a sort of hybrid fungus-animal brain. And your Shooter gives you something in return – it deposits some of its fungal brain matter into your visual-motor-cortex. So in the end you will be a little bit Shroom, and your Shroom will be a little bit you…’
Icarus felt dizzy. The room seemed to be softening, blurring, rotting away into nothing, and he felt himself falling into a kind of waking dream…
There was no room. There was no 2nd Platoon. Instead there was just warm, moist, crumbling, squelching stuff all around his lower body…
Soil? Am I buried in the ground? he wondered vaguely. But his mind felt soft, slow, not really human any more. And he tried to move his arms – but nothing happened. And he felt a kind of slow, mossy certainty that he didn’t have arms any more… And then he knew that his legs were no longer legs, but roots anchored in the earth…
He was a Shroom, growing in a vast greenhouse illuminated by an eerie yellow-green glow, amid rows and rows of other shrooms. Shroom scientists moved among the shrooms, tending them, watering and feeding them, checking them for signs of disease. Time seemed to have no meaning. He couldn’t tell if he had been dreaming this greenhouse for a minute or a million years – when suddenly the lights were turned on more brightly, and there was a surge of human activity as a small army of scientists began to harvest the shrooms, uprooting them and placing them in racks, and wheeling the racks out of the greenhouse. A human face, nose and mouth covered in a mask, loomed over him, gripped him and wrenched him out of the soil. It felt so wrong, so unnatural – his roots felt so suddenly cold and exposed and violated – and he wanted to kick and punch and fight – but he had no feet to kick, no fists to punch…
And he was placed on a rack and wheeled out of the greenhouse, trundling and bumping down a broad corridor to the Test Range. Now that the shrooms had come of age, it was time for them to go to work – as Spore-Shooters. But, as with any weapon, they needed to be test-fired. And so every single shroom was loaded with ammunition – simple ballistic Shrapnel-Spores – pointed at a plywood target twenty-five yards away, and fired…
And so the Test Range was booming and roaring with the sound of scores of Spore-Shooters firing their volleys of Shrapnel-Spores, and those Shrapnel-Spores shattering their targets with a whip-lashing Crack-ck-ck!
A few Shooters failed the test – maybe their growth was stunted, or they had contracted a fungal disease, or… Whatever the reason, they were stamped with a red ‘FAIL’ on their sides and dumped into a skip. But most were stamped with a green ‘OK’, and loaded back onto their racks, to be transferred to the First Airborne Brigade Armoury.
Now it was the turn of the Icarus-Shroom. A scientist plucked him roughly from his rack and roughly rubbed a part of his anatomy that he had given no thought to until this moment – when suddenly that part of his anatomy felt ticklish, and itchy, and had an overwhelming urge to open wide – and he realised that he had a mouth. The scientist took a canister of Shrapnel-Spores from the ammo box and dumped the contents into his mouth. Icarus felt himself swallowing, and he convulsed with a series of muscle-like contractions that moved the Spores along his body, all the way to his cap. He could feel his cap filling up, becoming engorged with the mass of tiny bulletoids, his cap feeling fit to burst, as if desperate for the toilet…
Without ceremony, and without forging any mental connection, the scientist raised the Icarus-Shroom, pointed him at the target, and pulled his trigger…
The ejection of Spores by a Shroom-Shooter is the fastest, most kinetically powerful movement in nature. Icarus just had time to register the sensation of the trigger being pulled when his body seemed to explode, with a convulsion so powerful that it occurred to him he had been struck by lightning. And in a way he was right, for the trigger set a sequence of bio-electrical ‘explosions’ firing along the length of his body, each jolt of electricity triggering an awesomely powerful physical spasm, which then triggered the next electrical jolt in the sequence, which triggered the next physical spasm… But this whole process took place in less than the blink of an eye. All Icarus knew was that he was exploding, being shredded, being zapped, being turned inside-out – and then he felt a tremendous sense of release, as the Shrapnel-Spores flew out of the gills in his cap, swarmed the twenty five yards to the target, and shredded it – Crack-ck-ck!
‘OK’. The green ink felt slimy on his side. But the Icarus-Shroom had passed – and so he was dumped unceremoniously back on his rack, and trundled and bumped along more long corridors until at last he was heaved out onto his berth in the First Airborne Brigade Armoury. And unknowable time passed in the yellow-green half-light, until there was a bustle of human bodies, and he was picked up by the Weapons Sergeant, and handed to…
Icarus-Shroom, meet Icarus-Human.
Then Icarus’s mind shifted and blurred, and his sense of self slowly, sludgily migrated from
I am a Shroom…
…I am Icarus D. Earthstar. And I have a headache.
You did well, whispered Ethan.
– Useful Links –
About the Author
‘Andrew Murray’ doesn’t exist. He is the pseudonym of Vic ‘Lucky Strike’ Stryker, who also officially doesn’t exist. As far as the Government of New London will admit, Vic didn’t serve for fourteen years with the elite, top secret Special Drop Service (SDS), and didn’t reach the rank of Regimental Drop Sergeant.
Vic definitely didn’t play a key role in a number of operations that are now the stuff of legend. These don’t include Operation Deathcap, the daring rescue of a group of senior New London scientists held captive deep within the Enemy’s Rock – for which Vic wasn’t awarded the Distinguished Drop Medal with Gold Shroom Clusters. Nor was Vic wounded in Operation Destroying Angel, to sabotage a Neufundland radar station and steal vital technology and blueprints – during which, in the act of rescuing a comrade, Vic received serious burns from an SDS Incendi-Shroom, and was awarded the Purple Woundshroom and mentioned in dispatches.
Since retiring from the SDS, Vic Stryker has in no way acted as a consultant on film and television productions, nor has he founded his own personal security firm, Lucky Strike Solutions.
He is not 6’ 0”, with eyes that are frequently referred to as ‘laser beam blue’.
He does not have a burn on his face, which pulls his lips into a permanent, enigmatic half-smile.
He has not been tasked with performing surveillance on you.
He has not been watching you, 24/7.
He does not know about that thing you did last week.
He is definitely not behind you, right now…
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