DUKE CITY MUSHROOM
* * *City authorities, after avoiding our questions for several days, are now admitting that there is serious trouble at the sewage treatment plant on South Second Street. What seemed to be a local phenomenon, at several individual homesites, has now become very serious at the plant. A strange brown substance clogs the lines coming into the plant. Sewage has backed up into many homes near the plant. Main arteries from other sections of town have been diverted and now empty directly into the river, because the lines leading into the plant are clogged and can't be opened. The odor, which could already be detected in mild form on certain days, called bad-air days, now permeates at all times the entire south side of town. The river stinks all the way to Belen.
Authorities are not sure of the cause of this disaster. Some suspect something alive growing in the sewer. Some citizens have raised again the question of secrecy regarding certain chemical/biological experiments at various hospitals in town, conducted under the auspices of the Department of Defense. Others wonder about the radioactivity which is dumped into the sewer every hour of the day and night, with the permission of the City Council, by hospitals and the Special Weapons Laboratory at the Base located in the southeast heights.
* * *Reporters have visited the sewage treatment plants, equipped with gasmasks and cameras. They report a huge brown amorphous mass, oozing up and over and around the holding tanks. It seems to be growing in size. It glows at night, raising the question of radioactivity in the sewer. Police have cordoned off the area, labelling it a crime scene, although it attracts very few visitors, because of the odor. Private citizens have reported that even at the barricades their amateur Geiger counters click madly and the needle is off the scale.
* * *Garbage workers returning from the landfill south of town report that another brown blob is growing there. It absorbs all organic matter, including plastic bags. It is growing at an alarming rate, they state.
University chemists and biologists visited the site and report that the blob is a colony of yeast and bacteria, mutated probably from the so-called Kombucha mushroom. It is now mildly radioactive, having picked up plutonium which enters the landfill in the groundwater leaching down from the Special Weapons Laboratory in the southeast heights.
* * *There are two growing masses in the South Valley east of the River. One began at the sewage treatment plant on South Second Street. The other began at the landfill, now closed, south of Rio Bravo. These masses are similar in their voracious appetite for organic matter. Sewage is mostly organic. Much of the material at the landfill is organic, in spite of pleas to citizens to learn composting. Both masses concentrate whatever radioactivity they encounter. The Sewage Plant Blob contains a great variety of isotopes. The Landfill Blob is predominantly plutonium, which has a half-life of 25,000 years.
The Sewage Plant Blob has reached the River. The additional moisture seems to accelerate its growth process, and it appears to be filtering into itself the radioactivity that is in the River, from Los Alamos and from the leaking sewage treatment plant itself.
* * *Our reporter has located some local aficionados of the Siberian mushroom, sometimes called also the Manchurian mushroom, and filed this report.
"The name of the mushroom is Kombucha. Actually it isn't a mushroom at all, but a symbiotic colony of yeast and bacteria. But everyone into this new craze calls it a mushroom. Half a cup of tea, in which this thing has been growing at room temperature for a week, taken on an empty stomach upon arising every morning, is supposed to provide longevity and extra energy. It is said to strengthen the immune system and offer relief from the symptoms of assorted ailments, ranging from diabetes to arthritis. One unsubstantiated claim states that it can cure AIDS, by its effect on the immune system."
Local disciples of the Kombucha mushroom report their continued use of the tea, which supposedly enhances health and a sense of well-being, in spite of the growing opposition of the American Medical Association, locally and nationally. "People are pretending that this has a medical function. They are taking this 'tea,' instead of seeking professional medical help for their health problems."
"One anonymous user reported, "We were advised not to put old mushrooms in the sewer, but evidently someone got careless."
* * *The City Council has declared the mushroom, and its tea, to be illegal substances. It is now illegal to sell, give away, or own the mushroom, or drink the tea. No plans for enforcement have yet been announced.
* * *The Air Force has attacked the two blobs, fearing what could happen if the two masses meet. Radioactivity is being concentrated in both of them, and questions of critical mass have arisen. Some experts have thought an explosion could result. One said his calculations indicated the possibility of igniting the atmosphere itself.
An effective means of military attack has not yet been devised. There is no brain, and no nervous system, in the enemy. Rifles, machine guns, howitzers, bombs, nerve gas, B-2 bombers, anti-craft carriers, computerized simulated night-vision super- weapons -- all are evidently useless.
One anonymous user of the Kombucha mushroom called to suggest boiling water. "I killed one that way," she reported. The City Council, the state governor and the Air Force have all rejected the proposal, saying, "It would be too expensive." Meanwhile, real estate prices are down, and revenue from tourism has plummeted, in Duke City.
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© 1986, Harry Willson