1.15 The Düngermischmaschine
1.15.1: Alenby and Ada discuss Human Waste Disposal
Pouzay, on the on the bridge over the Vienne
7 pm Thursday 3 April 1987
"Those men on the river-bank? They’re fishermen," said Ada in response to Alenby’s question. The couple had arrived at Hôtel-Restaurant le Gardon comfortably in advance of the dinner hour. Now they were taking a pre-prandial stroll on the nearby bridge over the river Vienne, enjoying the calm, unseasonably warm evening air. Ada had changed out of her bronze two-piece into a gown of some sort of clinging material that highlighted her slim figure.
As they drew closer to the fishermen, Alenby saw they were standing about a tripod-mounted hi-tech gizmo of some sort, chattering and gesticulating in the manner of fishermen who have just caught a fish. But he saw no fish, nor rods, nets or any other fishing equipment he knew of.
"Yes," said Ada, "they’ve caught a fish—caught it in a holovision 3-D image sequence, I mean—and right now they’re looking at the 2-D version on the monitor. It's probably a gardon. Gardon are plentiful in this stretch of he Vienne. A beautiful fish--diaphanous fins and tail, pale blue scales with a metallic luster. It's no wonder they're excited about catching one. Of course they'll release it as soon as they’ve done with it."
Alenby received this account of the fishermen’s activity with outward calm, despite an emotional turmoil that felt like a wildfire raging in the middle of his chest. So they'll release it. A gardon, what's more, about the best freshwater eating in--what a left-leaning, loony, liberal earth-hugging piece of idiocy that was! He gulped a couple of super-strength LiftiorpH tablets, and felt better. No side effects aside from a touch or nausea and a brief stabbing pain somewhere around the liver. His thoughts turned wistful. Instead of releasing that gardon, could one not as easily have the cook prepare it à la meunière, slightly undercooked upon leaving the kitchen so as to arrive at the table precisely à point? Just as was regularly achieved at Bistrot La Régalade in Paris…. That, of course, was in U. He sighed deeply.
They turned and sauntered back over the bridge. From time to time they stopped, leaned on the balustrade, silently watched the water recede downstream from the bridge pilings in lazily expanding curlicues. Here and there, swift-moving patches of undisturbed water mirrored the amber light of evening. But Alenby was oblivious to all this, for his mind was still fixed on the comparison with one’s comfortable, logical way of life in his old universe, and the crazy perversity of the new. Why, he asked himself over and over, why would anyone want to release a perfectly good gardon?
He hit on a plausible reason: "The water's not clean," he said half to himself, "polluted with sewage or something. Ergo, the fish have an off-flavor."
"Did you say ‘not clean’?" Ada responded some warmth. "Good Gaea, Alenby! What are you talking about? Of course the water’s clean! We have a saying, ‘clean as a river.’
"But I think I see why you ask," she continued after a pause. "Before Prohibition it was usual even in advanced nations to discharge sewage into waterways, much as the ancient Romans did. And according to the tabloids," she added with barely suppressed titter, "U-people still persist in putting their wastes in their drinking water. Such a peculiar practice!"
A victim of disorders of the lower bowel, the pain and embarrassment of which were exceeded only by those of the side-effects of the medications promoted to alleviate them, Alenby had better reasons than most to appreciate the amenities of modern plumbing, and he hastened to defend the system of water-borne waste disposal.
"Yes" said Ada, holding up a slim hand. "But we have a different system you may not be familiar with." She explained that in u, human excrement, or humanure, as well as domestic animal wastes and kitchen garbage, are treated in the Düngermischmaschine, a German contraption that works with friendly microbes to turn everything into crumbly, wholesome-smelling compost of humanure, or chumanure as it is called for short.
"Every household toilet has one, and the whole process is automatic….
"Automatic, that is, with one exception," she continued, suddenly thoughtful. "The Düngermischmaschine works reliably on the humanure of the law-abiding, but in the case of the relatively dense, highly nitrogenous fecal matter that is the end result of the ingestion by humans of animal products such as—let’s just say animal products of any kind, since we wouldn’t want to upset our appetites for dinner—then the microbes of a regular Düngermischmaschine might not be able to handle the job. If there's too much nitrogen, the microbes can't use it all and the excess is lost in the form of ammonia. If that happens, a siren sounds, and an alarm summons a team of repairmen from Frankfurt. PROFATPOL is notified, too, of course, and they respond rapidly, hoping to catch the perpetratrix with her pants down...."
At the mention of PROFATPOL, Alenby started visibly.
"Please don’t be alarmed," said Ada soothingly. "That’s just in private residences. Hotels and restaurants use the Überdüngermischmaschine, a heavy-duty Düngermischmaschine capable of rapid adaptation to the carbon/nitrogen ratio in the composting mix so that in the event of a sudden influx of user's humanure the bugs can keep right on doing their thing."
"Well, that’s good to know," said Alenby, "but what happens to this chumanure the thing makes? Doesn’t it pile up and make a mess?"
"Oh, the Düngermischmaschine automatically tests for incomplete conversion, recycles whatever compost doesn’t make the grade, and packages the good stuff in bio-degradable wrappers. If it is not to be used on-site—in a home garden, say—then the Post Office collects it and distributes it to farms and gardens elsewhere."
"The Post Office? But how does the Post Office manage to move such a mass of—?"
"Oh, I don’t know. Doesn’t the Post Office in U carry a lot of...whatever it was you were going to say?
"Good Gaea," she said, glancing at her watch, "it’s already seven-thirty. Come on, Le Gardon's restaurant will be open now."