The Nanogatherers
a sci-fi novel in progress

5. Uncle Joe

     Uncle Joe stepped out of the wagon and stared at Tobe. “Huh, you’re five thousand already? Time keeps slipping, don’t it? Well, come on, let’s get going.” He rubbed blear from his eyes.

     “Yeah, you boys get going, I’m going to bed,” Granny said.

     Tobe said “What’s this smell out here?”   

     Granny took a sniff of the air. “Creosote,” she said. “Must have rained here overnight, the rain brings up the smell of the creosote bushes.” She went into the wagon.

     Uncle Joe was big, taller than average for a male Tribe member. Instead of a t-shirt he wore a leather vest with many pockets. His shotgun was strapped across his back as usual. Uncle Joe was a remote personage to Tobe, one of the elders of the Tribe who’d never paid any attention to Tobe. He and Granny had been parking their wagons close to each other for the last few tendays.

     “What’s all this “birthday” stuff? Why did we come up here?”

     “Copper,” Uncle Joe said. “And I think I have the bait to bring the rest of the Tribe up here to help. Come on, I’ll show you where we’re going.” He went around to the other side of the wagon, away from the solar tarp side, and led Tobe along a path overgrown with greenery between juniper trees.

     “Nobody’s been here to Grandview Point for thousands of days, longer than you’ve been alive,” Uncle Joe said. “After the Singularity, people stopped coming here in person. The whole ecosystem of the Canyon has reverted because there are no park rangers, no park lawn mowers, no park gardeners, no park personnel, no other people at all.”

     They reached a low-walled ledge overlooking the Grand Canyon. Uncle Joe pointed out the water a mile down below, “That’s the Colorado River. Over here is Horseshoe Mesa.” A red arrow appeared in Tobe’s headband view pointing to the mesa.

     “In the Before Time, the Last Chance copper mine was down there. They dug out the easy pickings and went bankrupt.

     “We planted a crop of copper grapes about thirty thousand days ago, and nobody’s harvested anything for longer than you’ve been alive. Every time we pass through this part of the country I tell Granny we should come up here for the copper, but she’s always complaining about the uphill energy cost. This time I talked her into it.

     “We’re going to walk down there on the Grandview Trail and harvest the copper.”

     “Is this what Granny was saying you were going to tell me?”

     “No. Let’s get back, let’s get going. My wagon is just down the hill at the next parking lot.”  

     Joe’s wagon was indistinguishable from Granny’s wagon on the outside. A hundred feet long, twenty feet wide, ten feet high with gigantic tires, festooned with tables and chairs hanging from the sides. Its solar tarp was fully extended.

     Uncle Joe said, “Just a moment,” and went into his wagon and came back out with two forage bags and a crowbar. He handed one of the bags to Tobe.

     “Are we going to forage?” Tobe said.

     “Maybe on the way back, if we don’t find anything.”

     “What’s the crowbar for?”

     “It’s my key for getting into the hotel,” Joe said.

     Tobe said, “What’s a hotel?”

     “A place where people can sleep overnight if they don’t have a wagon to sleep in,” Joe said. “Before the Singularity, 15,000 people a day came here and they needed a place to sleep at night.”

     “The Singularity?”

     “Yeah, it snuck up on everybody and it was a big surprise. A big company built a fabulous new hotel here, but it was just after the first practical full-sense attachment for your home holodeck hit the market, and the hotel failed. People decided, why actually go anywhere when it was indistinguishable from a full-sense visit? The new hotel was the most luxurious and most expensive one, and they couldn’t lower their prices fast enough to compete with the cheaper motels, and they went bankrupt. The bottom dropped out of the whole travel industry everywhere.”

     “You’re using a lot of words I don’t know,” Tobe said.

     “Yes,” said Uncle Joe, “that’s one of the things that changed today. You can hear those words now.”

     They walked along the ancient road surrounded by encroaching trees.

     “What’s the singularity?”

     “The singularity why everything is like it is today instead of the way it used to be.” Uncle Joe stopped. “Look, Tobe, here’s the thing. The Tribe has kept you from learning things. Now, today, the Tribe’s filter has expired.”

     He exhaled loudly and shook his head. “That’s the big secret. Now we can go to the hotel.”

     “Kept me from learning what? I know everything!”

     “No you don’t. Things have been kept from you.”

     Tobe and Uncle Joe walked through the encroaching pines for a few hundred yards and then Joe said, “Here we are.”

     The sign for the Rimview Hotel was overgrown with trees and so was the   entrance road to the parking area around the mostly collapsed, mossed-over structure. No way to get a wagon in there. They had to climb over fallen trees and press dense brush.

     Tobe’s headband illuminated parts of the brush that would be suitable for foraging. He automatically paused and pulled out his knife. “Should we harvest this?”

     “No, not yet, on the way back, no sense carrying it two ways. And if I’m right, we’ll need the forage bags to carry stuff from the hotel.”

     They pushed through the greenery to the grand front entrance of the Rimview Hotel, which was blocked and smashed down by a fallen tree. Uncle Joe didn’t need his crowbar to get through the door.

Next: 1. Granny