Amanita and Sunti-
Madelin Almonte, A’22
Amanita had been living for some time in the city of Gentia, however she never found it to be any less cold and isolating. Gentia was a large city, composed of tall metal and brick structures with a winding train system that looped both under and above the streets. Three groups of people populated this city and others like it: humans, robots, and nature spirits. The robots, called Suntithenai by their human creators, worked closely alongside them and therefore, like the humans, both disdained and avoided the spirits. Likewise, the spirits disliked the humans and all technology they produced.
The girl Amanita was a nature spirit, a mushroom spirit specifically, as was obvious to all who saw her. She fashioned her clothes using only her own power over fungi to assist her, a practice common amongst spirits. Her cap and dress were composed only of mushroom skin and meat. Underlying mushroom gills made her dress and cap flare outwards, giving a rather rounded appearance. A thin mushroom veil, often found on poisonous mushrooms, served as both her cape and a comfort and she could not be parted from it despite the looks it earned her. Amanita also carried a large mushroom with her wherever she went; its stem was about her height and its cap was wide enough to eclipse her body when looked at from above.
Since moving to the city, Amanita lacked the courage to use her magic overtly. However, on this particular day, she felt differently. She felt homesick. And so, with determination in her heart, she entered a building and began climbing the stairs. Up and up she went until she could see sunlight shining through the roof’s door. Quickly opening the door, she stood on the roof. Just like all the times before, doubt ate at her while fear loomed overhead. She swallowed her dread and began to run. She ran to the roof’s edge and leapt, bringing the mushroom stem close to her chest with gripped hands as if she were holding a parasol on a windy day. Then, she flew.
She was flying and couldn’t be any happier. She could not wait to leave the city behind and weave through trees alongside fluttering maple leaves and rise above the conifers to look at the rivers below. And so, lost in memories, a smiling Amanita began to search for those beloved babbling brooks. When she looked down, however, she only felt mortified. The low murmurs she heard had come from people ⎯ humans mostly ⎯ pointing at the spectacle and strangeness of her. Eyes darting side to side, she saw only a sea of hands and eyes that sought to engulf her. Face drained of color, she fixed her mouth into a tight frown to conceal her great embarrassment at the apparent social faux pas as she began to descend. While the existence of nature spirits was widely known, the humans loathed the spirits’ magic born from nature for it existed outside of their world, outside of their hands. No laws prohibited magic, but it was derided. The humans and robots that surrounded Amanita had such sour, acrid looks twisting their faces. “Freak!” they called her; “Outsider!” they labeled her. Soon as her feet touched the ground, she searched for the nearest train station, not wanting to look at the bodies that crowded her or hear their cold reprimands and jeers. Though she detested human modes of transport, Amanita had no other way to get to her home near the city’s edge.
When she arrived at the station after a brisk walk, one hand clenching her mushroom stem and the other balled up around her cape, she was careful not to touch any railings as she entered the dark tunnel. Likewise, when boarding the train, she avoided touching any poles or other parts of the train with bare skin. Amanita’s magic could activate with just a touch, so she feared how her magic would interact with these human inventions. It was the reason she wore shoes, wore her long cape, and why the mushroom gills of her dress puffed outward noticeably. Seated on the train, Amanita had her head bowed down and could not help but berate herself for her earlier actions. Her eyes were trained on the mushroom skin of her dress, a frown pulling at her lips, and she found she could no longer admire the clothes she once felt so proud of. Breaking her from these thoughts was a crawling feeling on the back of her neck. She glanced around the train to see if there was anyone still eyeing her, and found several people meeting her gaze. Turning her head to look up, her mushroom was sheltering her from the artificial light above. Quickly, hoping this would make the other passengers cease their staring and hoping it would make her less odd, Amanita touched another hand to her mushroom and willed its cap closed as if it were a common umbrella. She looked out of its small window at the dark. The occasional flashing lights did nothing to comfort her. When the train finally left its underground cavern, the view changed little as the window instead filled completely with tall buildings and ashy smog. Looking to the side, she saw a poster that proudly proclaimed, “New Suntithenai Model”, with a robot model pictured. The image almost glittered in the Suntithenai’s chromium shine. But to Amanita, its countenance was haunting as its unseeing eyes and slightly upturned mouth unsettled her.
Amanita looked back at it and her brows were pulled together by bitter emotion and, before she got up to leave, thought to herself, "So human, to forget so quickly and advance with such hunger.” Exiting the subway, she walked to her little garden ⎯ her only home now. Many spirits like herself had been forced to move to the human cities as they grew. Amanita’s own home, a lovely forest to the East, was torn down for the sake of city expansion. Having no other place to go, she moved to the city of Gentia. The place she where stopped did not look much like a home, but it was hers. Squashed between two buildings was a small dilapidated ‘garden,’ shielded by an old chain link fence equipped with an equally old chain link door. She slept on a small patch of mushrooms she grew and had large mushrooms protruding from the building wall closest to this patch to protect her from the elements. The space was a relic of the city’s early gardening projects, promptly abandoned for more lucrative endeavors. By the time Amanita had found it, the garden was bare soil with patches of grass and weeds.
The rattle of the gate’s door signaled her arrival, “Though,” she thought, “there is no one here to listen but myself.” However, upon turning, she was soon shocked. Curled up like a child within the spattered greenery of her little home was a being that must have been around her own size. Its eyes were open, but unseeing, and its mouth a straight line. With matted skin and a scratched, rusty body, Amanita immediately knew this creature as an outdated Suntithenai model that someone threw out after seeing news of a newer model. Surprisingly, she was not upset that ‘trash’ was thrown into her small garden. Though it represented the ultimate in human technology, seeing one abandoned at her feet made her feel sorrow for it rather than resentment. Just as nature spirits were cast aside by cruel humans, Amanita realized that the same fate awaited the Suntithenai. In its steel black eyes, she could see her own reflection, so she called out to it, wanting to see it move once more. However, she had no name to call it by and could only speak greetings or questions. Next she thought that perhaps movement could jolt it awake, but fear stayed her hand. Instead, she moved the robot’s shoulder with her foot. Its eyes remained blank, and Amanita was distraught by this. Collapsing onto the soft grass and placing her mushroom aside, she knew that she would have to resort to magic.
Amanita began to move forward, touching the ground with her right hand and her left reaching for the robot’s cheek. Before being able to touch its skin, small mushrooms began to emerge and curl around the gaps in the fingers of her left hand that was on soil. Upon cupping the creature’s cheek, soft colors of all sorts began to bleed into its monochrome face and soon spread to the rest of its body. It was almost as if watercolors had been spilled on the robot. Most vibrant of all were the sky blue and sun yellow that adorned its face and the grass green that colored its hair. And, though she had yet to realize this, Amanita too was changed. Her blue eyes became the color of shiitake mushrooms and charcoal, with her clothes obtaining a metallic, glassy sheen.
Suddenly, the robot blinked its eyes several times and quickly tried to get up. It brought its hand to its chest with a gasp and found it devoid of decay. Amanita watched as it marveled at its own breathing before looking at her in confusion and delight at its being alive once more. The last thing it remembered was its superior, the human, refusing to replace its batteries, saying that money had to go towards purchasing a replacement. When its batteries were about to run out, its human had taken it to Amanita’s ‘garden,’ as humans and robots routinely left trash in the outdoor homes of nature spirits who refused to live in human homes. Curling up in the place it had been left, it felt betrayed and resigned, not even trying to reach its empty battery port as there was no time to replace the batteries. To wake up was a kindness it never expected, especially not from one of the nature spirits it was told to avoid by its previous programming and humans alike. Without hesitation, Amanita took its hands into her own. Nursing a smile, she softly asked, “What shall I call you?”
And, knowing it was a Suntithenai, replied “Sunti,” for it also learned to love the sun’s warmth, the first thing it felt on its revived skin. Amanita was overjoyed, for it was alive and speaking. The two had never spoken to someone who was like the other, and so they conversed for a while. Even more peculiar, they could tell that they had changed, Sunti was no longer only metal and Amanita was not only flesh. The only one who could understand this new state of being was the other person. Sunti, who had long been spoken at rather than with, was thrilled even though it did not understand these changes very much. With no more tasks to do, Sunti allowed itself to wonder and think. Most curious of all, its power no longer came from the dead batteries within it, but from the sun which it named itself after, the soil that it sat on, and from the love ⎯ for both people and of life ⎯ of the one that held its hand. Magic and nature gave it life again, so now it sought to understand why. This was frightening, for its programming could explain nothing. Every Suntithenai was made to understand immediately all that it needed to know about itself, the world, and whatever job they were assigned. There was no need to wonder, nor was there a need to know more. But now, looking at its pink hands and Amanita’s black eyes and thinking of all the things it did not know, it thought, “There’s more, there’s more, there’s more!”
The more Amanita spoke of the magic she used, the more Sunti’s eyes crinkled with delight, and it thought with a laugh “Oh who knew my face could wrinkle like that? Who knew there was so much to know?” Seeing how talk of her abilities appeared to bring Sunti joy, Amanita thought it would like even more to see magic in action. Slowly, she helped Sunti rise up. She picked up her mushroom and, lifting it parallel to herself, swung it to the ground so its base could hit the soil. The mushroom’s cap began to open and its gills flared out above them. Leaning in with sparkling eyes, as if to tell a secret, said to Sunti, “We can fly with this, fly right above this city, if we wanted to.”
Inquisitively, but with a smile dancing on its lips, Sunti asked “But how? And where would we go?”
“Well, with magic and wind of course” Amanita replied before pausing. “As for where… I’m not quite sure.” There was silence between them as they thought. “Why not search for others abandoned as you were?”
“And for a way to revive them too!” Sunti said with eyes sparkling and mouth smiling. It was excited once more as it realized that it could help others. When magic powered up its battery and mycelium began to take root alongside wires and circuits, Sunti’s outer shell grew soft as flesh and its eyes were able to take in color like never before. And, though Sunti did not yet know how to use this, it could surely feel magic of its own nestled within its chest, just as it was sure that Amanita too could feel new abilities running underneath her skin. Rather than being confined by a program and inevitable shutdown, Sunti had will and choice. In exchange, Ananita could harden her skin as if it were steel and knew the components of whatever she touched. By this, she gained an understanding of the world she felt so excluded by. That was worth opposing the order that humans have created in Gentia, which was inevitably what their actions would do. Amanita felt it unjust that nature spirits and robots alike were subordinated to humans, something she had never considered before meeting Sunti. She had always thought that humans and robots held the same power.
And so, the two of them agreed on their new self assigned quest. This was a peculiarity for both of them, but a welcome one. Since entering the city Amanita felt listless and without purpose after losing her forest home, while Sunti always had tasks assigned to it instead of being able to assign itself a quest. For now though, there was the simple fun of flying. Amanita told Sunti to hold onto her waist since only she could fully guide the mushroom, at least for now. She also extended the gills on the bottom of her dress so that Sunti had more solid support when airborne. Soon they were off, the mushroom lifting them off the ground by fluttering its cap just as a jellyfish would. Many saw them from the ground, but the two did not care, content with each other’s companionship and their joyous quest. Though not told here, the story of Sunti and Amanita continues on as they work to revitalize the abandoned while bringing about a new era in which both technology and nature work together.