This week's Fiction Writers Group 300-word flash fiction prompt is:
Here is my entry, "Gaia-Terra", with apologies to Frank Herbert ("Destination Void") and Harlan Ellison ("I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream"), among others.
It was born of a mistake. A biology experiment in a small college lab. A window left open. A windy day. Those few elements changed the world.
It was a standard lesson in recombinant DNA: the creation of a chimera, foreign genes inserted into the genome of Armilaria solidipes, the reviled Honey Fungus. A single individual of the species, at almost three miles across, was considered the largest living thing on Earth. Into this simple genome, an intrepid Freshman inserted several human genes that build dendrites—nerve endings.
The chances that the new genes would activate were slim at best. But, whether by dumb luck or brilliant planning—which the anonymous student never admitted—the genes were perfectly placed within the homeobox of at least one of the fungal cells. The production of spores by the new lifeform proved the student’s idea, but transferring the spores from mushroom to microscope in front of an open window on a windy day was not the smartest move.
The first patch of mushrooms appeared within a month. In a year, the college was known as ‘Shroom U. In another year, most of the county’s residents were cutting mushrooms instead of grass in their front lawns. The fungus retaliated against every effort to eradicate its rapidly growing underground mycelial network by killing everything else in its range. Tests proved the dendritic genes had turned the fungus into a massive brain with its own agenda.
Finally, farmers gave up and just planted their crops among the mushrooms, which resulted in the largest bumper crop every recorded. The relationship between humans and their world-girdling host was sealed when the first orbital photos of the “infested” Mojave desert appeared. Clearly spelled out for all the world to see was its message: “I am Gaia-Terra. Worship me.”