The Nanogatherers
a sci-fi novel in progress

1: Granny

     On the morning of Tobe’s 5,000th birthday, Granny’s wagon came to a halt at Grandview Point on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Her wagon was identical on the inside to the Champion Riviera Model C984 double-wide mobile home she grew up in.

     The wagon’s suspension and acceleration were so smooth that it was almost impossible to tell whether the doublewide was moving or not, if you weren’t looking out a window. When the parking brake engaged there was a barely perceptible thump that jarred Granny awake in a hangover daze.

     She found herself sitting in the breakfast nook with her face down on the table. She roused and sat up and heard Uncle Joe snoring in the living room. She and Uncle Joe had been gabbing and drinking all night. She must have fallen asleep, herself.  

     Sunlight streamed in through the kitchen window, a vivid blue-sky morning. All that sun going to waste! The visor of her headband was skewed around over her ear; she righted it and checked the wagon’s battery status in the heads-up display. Yep, they’d burned a lot of juice coming uphill to the Grand Canyon. She stood up. She’d better waken the boys to roll out the solar tarp. 

     There was a blinking red dot in the augmented-reality view projected into her eyes by the headband’s visor. What was that? She activated the dot and a message popped up:

     “NOTIFICATION: Tobe, a resident in your wagon, is 5,000 today. Access restrictions removed.” The ‘bot’s impersonal voice read it aloud to her through the headband speakers, but Granny was able to read it herself.

     Tobe. She turned her head to look at the utility room door. Tobe was sleeping in there.

     She sat back down. Why were the ‘bots bugging her about Tobe? Tobe, what was his relationship to her, again? Was Tobe one of her actual descendants?

     “Tobe my descendent?” Yep, her query to the ‘bots was answered instantly: one of the henna rings tattooed on her right thigh pulsed with light. She touched that ring and a holo of her daughter Phoebe appeared in her VR view along with a genealogy chart. “Hi, Ma!” Phoebe said. She sat down at the table and began brushing her long blonde hair, looking exactly as she’d looked on the day she ascended.

     Phoebe was her 38th child, that’s right. Sure, you always remember your firstborn, and maybe a few after that, but after the first twenty or thirty they start to all blend together. Granny had 64 henna rings tattooed on her arms and legs, one for each child she’d borne. No other woman of the Tribe had more rings than Granny. Two to the sixth was enough.

     The chart showed Granny that Tobe was one of Phoebe’s great-great-great-grandchildren. Granny was listed in the chart as Tobe’s guardian. The bots must have made the change after Tobe’s mother quit the Tribe and vanished several thousand days ago.

     At least Phoebe ascended according to the protocols of the Tribe. She didn’t run away like Tobe’s mom.

     Granny wished that her kids wouldn’t ascend, but you couldn’t keep it from them, not the way the Tribe lived. It looked like Alfie was going to ascend, for instance–his rumspringa was almost over and she was afraid he was going to leap away from the Tribe into the sky.

     Not afraid. Resigned to the probability that Alfie will go away, as it would soon become his legal right to do so. She had that on her mind, plus a swarm of regular worries, such as Gwendolyn being on the verge of giving birth.

     Granny was a midwife for the Tribe because of all her experience. Her arms and legs had hardly any room left for more henna rings. She hadn’t had a child of her own for many thousands of days.

     Phoebe was still brushing her hair. “Good to see you, Phoebe.” She dismissed Phoebe from view.

     So today was Tobe’s birthday. By the pre-Singularity standards, Tobe would turn 14 years old in 40 more days. He was still just a kid, but now all the Tribe’s filters would be removed. Tobe would have full access to the infonet. And as far as she knew, nobody had told Tobe to expect it. That was his mother’s job, and she ran away before Tobe was 2,000 days old.

     Tobe would have no idea what a “birthday” was because The Tribe did not follow that tradition. They did not have a calendar culture. There was no need for a calendar: the robots had modified the Earth’s spin and axial tilt so that sunrise and sunset were at the same time every day everywhere on the planet, and there were no seasons any more.

     She didn’t know Tobe that well. He’d arrived at Granny’s wagon less than a hundred days ago and she’d been too busy to pay much attention to him. It was going to be a strange day for him and she didn’t know how he was going to handle it.  

     But, he was just another kid underfoot. She had a standard procedure for a kid’s 5,000th birthday, a standard story along with a special breakfast. It wasn’t something the Tribe wanted but it was the robots’ decree that children gained full timeline access after 5,000 days. She selected the breakfast in her headband view and activated it and dismissed Tobe from her mind.

     One of the kitchen printers began humming.

     Tobe was the least of her worries. Besides Alfie’s upcoming ascension, and Gwendolyn’s impending delivery, and Uncle Joe’s side-trip scheme up to the Grand Canyon. She looked at the heads-up display of the the power drain from the batteries, they had to roll the solar tarp out and stop wasting all that sunshine.

     The other eight people in the wagon were still sleeping. The Tribe people were late risers. They slept long into the morning every day.     

     She lurched to her feet, still a bit tipsy from last night’s beer, and went to the end of the hall to the boys’ room. She opened the door and said, “Bhetan! Alfie! Get up, we moved, we gotta deploy the tarp.”

     They mumbled replies. “No, I want you up NOW! The batteries are down, we climbed more than a mile high overnight. All this way so Joe can harvest his damned copper!”

     Granny shut the door. Deploying the tarp was their regular duty when the wagon moved to a new location.

     She moved down the hall and the utility room door. Tobe was sleeping on a cot. He was tall and blond, like most of the Tribe, and was still wearing his cargo shorts and t-shirt from last night.      

     “Tobe,” she said softly, and he woke immediately. “We moved, we have to deploy the tarp.”

     “Okay,” he said.     

     “We’re in a new place, there could be bears or big cats, so be careful.”