“Hey Janet. Come take a look at this.”
“Sure.” She crossed the distance between them and looked where Alex was crouching beside the surveying equipment. “Okay. You found a mushroom.”
“Yeah. I did. Thing is, nothing this advanced is supposed to have been released into the environment yet. At least not land-bound.”
“You had the same training I did. Terraforming planets isn’t clean lines. Something evolved from one of the simpler fungi. You can’t expect nothing to adapt in the thousand years between seeding the oceans and us being able to breath the air. It’s just a mushroom.”
“Maybe, but all that was here last year was a bunch of lichen. We seeded phase three, so pioneer plants are starting to spring up, but there shouldn’t even be enough decaying matter yet to feed the thing. Even if it started the moment we got here, why is it already fruiting?”
“I don’t know. Take a sample and catalog it in the next set we ship to HQ. If we’re lucky, it is something that helps break down the stones into soil and we get a fat bonus when the R&D department figures out a way to work it into the future planet seeding program.”
Alex frowned, but went ahead and dug a sample case from the buggy. Just to be sure, he tried to extract some of the gravel from below it as well so that it wouldn’t be just the fruiting body alone.
* * *
A month had gone by since Alex sent the report and the whole area was now covered in the mushrooms. They peeked out from patches of grass. They edged around weedy growths. The things were even growing on bare rock faces as though there was nothing to them but the broad mushrooms themselves. The rest of the crew had long ago stopped thinking him daft for worrying over it. Their full attention had been shifted onto understanding what was going on here.
Word came from survey stations Centi-a2 and Centi-a7, the two nearest to them, that the fungal growths were there too. No other stations were experiencing them yet.
“So they don’t have any sort of ‘root’ running under the ground?” Herbert was the last to finally speak with him about it in private.
“None that I can find.” Alex was the group ‘expert’ on these things since he’d been spending most of the last month studying them.
“What do they feed on?”
“The lichens I suppose.”
“Yeah, about that. I don’t know that they are anything we can classify.”
“What do you mean?”
“R&D already got back with us in the last report. Do you remember what they said?”
“Yeah, the stuff wasn’t closely related to any other living thing on record.”
“They aren’t mushrooms. They aren’t fungi, plant, animal or anything else we are familiar with.”
“Yeah, that’s what I got from it too.”
“Alien. Don’t you get it? Indigenous life forms!”
“I…” Herbert couldn’t really deny it now that it was said out loud. If it wasn’t like anything on earth or the other converted planets, it had to be alien.
“It gets weirder. HQ didn’t mention it, but you know how they gave the order to just observe them without doing any harm or collecting specimens?”
“I had already collected more samples prior to that report. I had been taking a few apart and planned to make a new report on my findings.” Alex glanced around as though expecting the ship cameras were able to pick up on them out here in the greenhouse. “They are full of complex structures. I think they are kind of like animals despite how they look.”
“Animals?” Herbert didn’t sound convinced.
“Look, I can’t begin to guess what a lot of those structures do, but there seemed to be a clear digestive tract running from the foot up to the little speckled area they all have on one side. The gills seem to function like external lungs. There’s a sort of circulatory system in there as well. I think I even figured out what serves as a brain and nerves for them. I don’t think they are growing, I think they are showing up from somewhere.”
“I think you’ve gone off the deep end here. Migrating fungus.”
“Migrating alien life. What do all three of our stations have in common? They are all sitting next to the oceans. The same oceans we seeded oxygen producing plants into a thousand years ago.”
“Dead oceans. Look, they do all sorts of scans to try and find life anywhere that has water. They never find anything, but if they did the TransGalactic Government would never allow them to start the process.”
“And if they weren’t looking in the right spot? If they weren’t looking deep enough or looking for the right thing?”
“It would explain why they were suddenly keen on us not doing too much direct sampling I guess.”
“Here’s what worries me more; They seem to be leaving patterns. Faint lines of raised gravel. Only some of them do it and only in areas where I took samples or here at the station. Patterns. The same patterns in each spot. What if just maybe, they are self aware enough to try communicating with us?”
Herbert looked out through the greenhouse glass at the patchy plants mingled with the alien ‘mushrooms’. Both were silent under the weight of the implications. It wasn’t just a mushroom. It might be first contact.
Author Note: I kind of like this idea and don’t feel like the short span of this blog affords much room to explore it. I am considering adding this to a list of stories to develop into longer works. Feel free to comment if you have feelings about the idea of expanding on this.