Baby Space Fungus
I heard him approach, pause for only a second before, and declare, “I think you missed some.”
I squeezed my eyes shut, stemming my frustration. “Yeah, Dido, I know. I’m only half done.”
“Wow, really?” he said, surprised, as if this fact wasn’t totally obvious from where he was standing. “I mean, I’ve been gone for like, an hour. At least.”
“Uh huh,” I grumbled. “Well, there’s a lot this time.” Chink, chink, chink. I banged the hammer harder and harder against the chisel, knowing full well I was probably denting the ship. His space ship, technically. Argh.
“Yeah,” he agreed absently. The issues of accumulating space fungus didn’t do much to hold his interest. “So I was down at that Café Kreludor? Their food, I swear, it gets more delicious every day. I don’t know what kind of fruit they could possibly grow around here, but whatever it is, their juice is amazing. It’s . . . it’s like the nectar of the stars, with a hint of Ubikiberry Elixir. And NeoCola. Oh, and I tried the Gooey Kreluberry Pie this time? It’s . . . just. You know?” he sighed. “There are no words for that pie. Of course, my diet’s shot, but I think it might not have the same effect here with the lesser gravity, you know?”
Chink. Chink. Chink.
“Oh, I would have brought you some, Laely,” he said quickly, “but, you know . . .”
I stopped and looked at him. JubJubs have an excuse for everything. “Yeah. I know,” I said flatly. Turning back around, I banged even harder at a piece of fungus until it suddenly dislodged and slapped against my face before hitting the ground. I grabbed the thing and, with all my frustration behind it, hurled it as far as I could. It landed aggravatingly nearby.
Dido acted like he didn’t notice. There was a silence. He cleared his throat.
“So I’m thinking we should do this more often,” he said after a moment.
“What?” I asked in a low voice.
“You know, clean this stuff off,” he clarified. “I mean, like you said, there’s a lot this time. I just think it would be safest.”
My already throbbing hands clenched the tools tighter, aching to throw them at his big head. “Oh, so you’re saying that I should clean your ship more often because you’re concerned that these tiny pests might jeopardize your safety?”
“I’m worried about your safety too!” he said defensively.
My glare intensified.
“Ok, but listen, I read this book once—” I rolled my eyes at this and went back to work “—and this tiny piece of fungus attached itself to someone’s shoe. And that person carried it back to Neopia. And it grew and grew to like this gigantic monster on Mystery Island, and they say that’s why Geraptiku was deserted—and anyways, it almost took over the entire world. Just one piece. And look at all the fungi we’re conveying! Daily!” He gestured at it all.
I was staring at him. “Dido,” I asked slowly, “are you afraid of fungi?”
His face scrunched up into a look of utter denial. “No.”
I picked up one of the little ones I’d knocked off, leaving my tools on the ground. “You do know that this is baby space fungus? I mean, people keep these as pets.”
“They grow really, really big eventually!”
“You realize how ridiculous that is, don’t you? It barely even moves. I cannot believe I’ve been doing all this work by myself for all of these years because you’re scared of this.”
He looked offended. “You know I would help if I could. Unless you’ve forgotten that I don’t have any arms? And that I’m too short to reach up there even if I did?”
“Maybe you could just come out here in the morning before you’ve brushed your hair and scare them all away!”
“That,” he said stiffly, “was uncalled for.”
I dangled the fungus in front of him. “Watch out, Dido! It might take over your giant, cosmic face!”
He shrieked and jumped away, somehow losing balance on his big feet and landing on his back. “Stop, stop! Seriously, stop!”
I stood over him, the fungus hanging just over his tightly closed eyes. “He’ll embed himself in your hair, right on top of your head, and slowly penetrate your skin until he's fused himself to your brain and has complete control over your mind. And worst of all,” I lowered my voice ominously, “you’ll go completely bald.”
“Gah!” Dido managed to roll over to the side. He pushed himself upright and backed farther away from me, breathing heavily.
Gently, I placed the fungus back on the ground and then crossed my arms over my chest imperiously.
He shook himself, trying to look dignified. “You’re lucky I don’t fire you.”
“You can’t fire family,” I retorted sweetly. “Besides, where would you find a co-pilot as proficient as me by next flight?”
“You mean other than the bottom of the ship?”
My smile fell. “You pompous—” I snarled, and then, unable to think of a bad enough name for him, threw my hands up. “Gah! I can’t do this anymore!”
He sighed sympathetically. “Do you want some Kreluberry Pie?”
“NO!” I roared. “But by all means, you go, have a slice of your own! Have three!” I raved. “Anything. Just leave me alone. I’ll do this myself. Like always. Anything if you’ll go.”
Dido stared at me while I huffed. Then, infuriatingly unbothered, he shrugged and headed off to the nearby lights of the café. I kept watching when I could no longer see him, trying to calm myself down.
Eventually, I sucked in a deep breath, and bent to retrieve my hammer and chisel.
There was still so much to get off. The thin layer of little creatures along the underside of the ship was constantly moving, but you only saw it if you looked closely. Tiny eyes blinking, thin tentacles blowing around in slow motion as if underwater. They were kind of creepy . . .
My gaze shifted past the ship where a small group of people were already gathering, waiting for today’s flight to Faerieland. That was our only destination, but being one of the few modes of transportation to and from Kreludor was, admittedly, a great business.
I’d thought the idea was kind of stupid when Dido first came up with it. I also thought he was doing me a favor when I—low on Neopoints, and maybe a little desperate—agreed to co-pilot for him, and “help out” with some “routine maintenance” that he’d said would be easy for a tall Blumaroo like me.
I’d just started hacking at the fungus again when I felt something moving against my foot. Looking down, I saw a little piece of baby fungus clinging to my skin. Something about it looked suspiciously like the one I’d thrown earlier, though of course I couldn’t be sure.
I jiggled my leg, trying to shake it off, but it held on. Unsurprising, as these things have amazing grip—hence the chisel. Just as I bent to pick it off with my fingers, I felt another piece on my other foot. I tried to kick the fungus away, but again it held on. There were a few more of them crawling awkwardly, crab-like toward me.
Confused, I looked up from them only to see the pile of fungus that I’d removed from the ship spreading out, some moving towards me, others towards the ship. Their quick gain in speed was shocking.
“Dido . . .”
I began to back away, but the mass of them advanced with a sudden intensity that I didn’t expect, and their beady eyes locked on and transfixed me, flat black and shining with only a pinprick of light. I can’t be of interest to them, I thought to myself. They can’t actually be dangerous . . .
My legs were half covered when I started running.