The Nanogatherers
a sci-fi novel in progress

2. Tobe

     Granny shut the utility room door and Tobe sat up from the cot. He was sleeping in the utility room next to the clothing printers because Granny’s wagon was packed with 14 people. Except for Alfy and Bhetan, the other kids in Granny’s wagon were little more than toddlers, not big enough to help with the solar tarp.

     His boots were under the cot. He stood up and folded the cot up into the storage slot in the wall and put on the boots. Besides his headband, he didn’t own anything else. He grabbed the headband from the shelf by the printers and put it on. The headband was his interface with the robotic controls of the wagon; with the headband on, he was able to select from options in the heads-up display.

      They’d moved to a new spot, Granny said. He hadn’t noticed that they’ve moved–he never did; they always moved at night after everybody was asleep, and even if you were awake, the wagon moved so silently and steadily that you couldn’t tell that the wagon was moving.

     Where exactly were they? He checked the wagon’s new position: the headband display showed GPS: Lat: 38.3222074 Long: -109.849011. The location even had a name: Grandview Point.

     Tobe stepped out into the hall. Granny was at the door of Zina’s room talking to somebody inside. Granny looked at him and then slipped into Zina’s room and closed the door. Zina was the mother of Bhetan and Alfy, who were older than Tobe. The other three of Zina’s kids were little more than toddlers.     Unlike the other kids, Tobe didn’t have any brothers or sisters. He’d lived in so many wagons…he’d been moved from wagon to wagon all his life, most recently two hundred days in Geen’s wagon, before that a few hundred in Bali’s wagon, and before that stints with Yolanda and Irving and Vivace and Racha and back into the mists of whichever wagon he was in when his mother deserted him and the Tribe. That was more than three thousand days ago.

     He barely remembered his mother but he still felt the smoldering resentment of the people of the Tribe. It wasn’t fair: he hadn’t run away, it was his mother who ran away, but people blamed him for it.

     Nobody else was up or awake; the wagon was silent except for the low wum, wum, wum of a printer as he went through the kitchen–Granny must have some project going.

     Uncle Joe was snoring on the big green leather sectional sofa in the front room. Well, that wasn’t a surprise, Granny and Uncle Joe had been spending a lot of time together recently. Tobe looked at his heads-up display for a satellite view of the top of Granny’s wagon, and then pulled the point of view high enough until he saw the pulsing red dot indicating another wagon of the Tribe. Yep, Uncle Joe’s wagon was parked only a couple hundred yards away.

     The front room was littered with discarded glasses and pizza crusts from last night. It was unusual for the adults to have been drinking in the living room. The wagon was cramped with people right now and most festivities were held outside the parked wagon in the evenings. The adults must have been partying while the wagon was moving.

     It was routine for Tobe to automatically clean up the mess. It was part of a kid’s job, just like deploying the solar tarp.  He picked up the debris and could identify them by their discards. Ethan’s beer bottles, Uncle Joe’s whiskey tumbler, Granny’s highball glass, Vivyan’s snifter, Zina’s mason jar, but not Dhalia’s champagne flute–well, she was pregnant. And lots of  pizza crusts. Why didn’t the old folks finish their pizza?

     He tried not to make any noise while dumping the trash in the matter bin  but Uncle Joe stirred and sat up when Tobe opened the gun cabinet next to the door.

     “Tobe!” Uncle Joe said, rubbing his hair groggily. Uncle Joe wasn’t as blond as the rest of the tribe, more of a sandy red-head look. “Are we here already?”

     “I didn’t know we were going to move,” Tobe said.

     “We just decided last night,” Joe said. “We’re here for the copper harvest down on Horseshoe Mesa. The rest of the wagons kept going west when we hit Flagstaff…but they’ll be up here with us right away, if the booze is here.” He flopped back down.

     Tobe didn’t know what Uncle Joe was talking about–well, that was normal. Sometimes it was almost like the adults were speaking a different language.

     He pulled and out his usual sidearm from the gun cabinet, a Ruger GP100 .357 revolver with a six inch barrel in a holster belt. Tobe preferred a revolver because he didn’t have to get on his hands and knees to retrieve precious brass like you had to if you were using a semi-automatic. The belt also held his machete on the other side from the gun. The people of the Tribe were always armed.    

     He opened the door and stepped down out of the wagon into the morning sunshine streaming horizontally through ponderosa pines.