The Nanogatherers
by Colin Campbell
a sci-fi novel in progress

8: On the way back to the wagons.

     Then they were hiking back to the wagons, bottles tinkling together in their shoulder-slung forage bags with every step. Uncle Joe was in a positive mood because his idea had borne fruit. Tobe was full of questions but Uncle Joe was intent on sending individual messages to all the Tribe wagon leaders in the vicinity.

     “This is so great, Tobe. We’re finally going to have enough people to harvest the copper. Plus all the booze.”

     “What was this Singularity you’re talking about? Tobe said.

     Uncle Joe stopped. “Well, the plain truth is, we don’t know. There are a lot of theories.” He took the opened bottle of scotch out of his forage bag and took another swig. “Mmm, this stuff is wild. What we know is that the Singularity is an information barrier, a dense array of self-contradictory information.”

     “How did it happen?” 

     “We don’t know,” Uncle Joe said. “The robots got better and better and then they took over doing everything, apparently. It’s hard to tell because the old records are contradictory and some of them are fiction.

     “And it was fast. It was an exponential growth phase and people couldn’t believe it, couldn’t keep up with the pace of change. So they receded into virtual reality. Most people at some point retreated into their own virtual reality while being totally supported by the robots.”

     He put the bottle back in his forage bag and resumed hiking.

     “I know you’re surprised about this, Tobe, because I was surprised when it happened to me. Not in the same way as you, it must have been fifty or sixty thousand days ago, I stopped counting a long time ago. Things were way different back then.”

     “You were you alive then? What was it like for you?”

     “I don’t know,” Uncle Joe said. “I was a little kid. I lived on a ranch in the desert with my grandpa. We didn’t have any electronic communications, no phones, no headbands, just a few cows.

     “Then one day he died, and after a while I decided to go somewhere else, and I started up his GTO and drove away. I made it to Barstow, and nobody was there.”

     “Was Granny alive then? She’s older than you.”

     “Yeah, she was raised by preppers in the mountains, and then, same as me, she went out into the civilized world, and discovered it was gone.

     “Or at least the people were gone, and the bots offered you anything you wanted, literally anything.”

     “Why have you kept all this from me?” Tobe said. “Why has the Tribe shunned me–is it because of my mother?”

     “Nope,” said Uncle Joe, “it’s just the way the Tribe operates. We prefer not to dwell on the way humans used to despoil the earth.

     “There’s no value to the way humans used to live when they were dependent on technology for everything. Hundreds of millions of people were killed because of it. The historic record is ghastly, and that’s why we’ve kept it from you. But now you’re 5,000, and the robots will no longer honor our restrictions on you.”

     “What are the restrictions? What will I be able to do now??

     “You’ll have to find out for yourself, just like I had to when my grandpa died. Everything was different after the Singularity, a curtain closed between the eras. Wherever you look today there is so much fake content that nobody can tell what is true. I’ve been studying about it for fifty thousand days but I  still don’t understand it. it’s like string theory, which can predict things in a hundred trillion quintillion alternate universes but not anything in this one particular universe that we actually live in. 

     “But you don’t need to understand it, Tobe: we’re outside it, free from the robot’s rule.” He took another swig from the liquor bottle.

     By the time they got back to the wagons Uncle Joe was sodden and slurring. Before going into his wagon, he took one bottle out and handed it to Tobe. “Give this one to Granny. It’s single malt,” he said. The label said “The Glenlivet 18.”  

Next: 9. Foraging