The Nanogatherers, by Colin Campbell

Chapter 2.1: Yucca

      Granny knocked at Zina’s door. “Alfy, Bhetan, time to get up, there’s some special extra foraging that has to be done right now.”

     Zina, their mother, opened the door. “Come on, boys, get your buns out there, dammit, there’s company coming.” Zina had 19 henna rings tattooed on her arms. Besides Alfy and Bhetan, she had three more little kids in the wagon, plus fourteen more children who were now adults and out on their own.

     Tobe stood and waited. All the kitchen printers were humming and buzzing–sounded like fabrics, not food.

     When the boys and Zina came out, Granny said, “We’re printing backpacks for everybody for tomorrow’s copper harvest, and we’re running out of the right matter. We need long fibers to make canvas for the backpacks.”

     Alfy said, “Why can’t we just use regular graphene forage bags?”

     “Because copper is a lot heavier than forage and it’s going to be too difficult of a hike through rugged terrain to be carrying a forage bag by the strap,” Granny said.

     “I’ve re-set your headbands to focus on yucca and agave,” she continued. “They’re the best for what we need right now, there’s a lot of cactus out there but don’t bother with it, get the yucca.”

     They went through the kitchen on the way to the great room and the printers were cranking out backpacks, and Beth and Dahlia in the great room were already assembling the backpack parts the printers were spitting out. Six backpacks were hanging from the otherwise-bare clothing racks. Beth and Dahlia had henna armrings, but only five and four, respectively.

     “We’re gonna need a lot more canvas material,” Granny said. “I want you boys to go out and get fiber materials for us. Go get us yucca and agave leaves. Two extra-large forage bags apiece. Wear gloves, those agave leaves can be spiky.”

     Outside, Alfy said, “We’ll need machetes for this, your regular knife won’t do. I’ve harvested yucca before.” They opened a tool locker on the side of the wagon and pulled out three machetes and got quick-printed gloves at printer output vents between the stored folding chairs and tables hanging along the sides of the wagon.

     They walked across the solar tarp away from the canyon into woods. The surrounding terrain south of the Rim is trees and small clearings as far as the eye can see. Pinyon pines and junipers, and shrubs such as rabbitbrush and cliffrose. The ground was a mix of sandy, rocky, and loamy soils. Between woodlands and forests there were meadows and grasslands.

     As soon as they were out of earshot of the wagon,  Alfy said, “Four more days and then I won’t have to put up with anybody else reprogramming my headband. I’ll be able to do whatever I want.”

     Tobe was shocked. “She’s only helping us forage better. We all have to forage.”

     “Unless we leave,” Alfy said. “We don’t have to forage if we leave the Tribe. The robots will give us anything we want.”

     “Why would you want to leave?” Tobe couldn’t imagine it. The Tribe was the only life he had ever known. The Tribe was proud of being independent of the robots.

     “Everybody knows the Tribe is a backward batch of morons,” Alfy said.

     “I never heard anything like that,” Tobe said.

     “Well of course, you were just a kid,” Bhetan said. “The ‘bots wouldn’t let you hear it. Now you’ve reached 5,000 and you’re in the club now. Before, it was no use trying to talk to you because you were just one of the ignorant children. Now that you’re of age, there’s a lot you have to learn.”

     “You’ll find out as soon as you’re able to go on Rumspringa and see for yourself,” Alfy said. “The sex is all different, for one thing. It’s like, you can be fucking two women at the same time, and two more are sucking your dick, and two more are kissing you, and you can feel all the differences in each of their tricks and twists simultaneously even though they’re each also separate.”     “What’s rumspringa?” Tobe said.

     Alfy didn’t answer because they moved over a ridge out of a patch of junipers into a clearing with a patch of yucca rosettes on the south-facing downslope.

     Alfy started chopping at the first one they encountered and said, “You guys find your own, I don’t want you swinging your machetes around me.” 

     There were plenty of rosettes of yucca and agave. Bhetan chose one fifty feet away from Alfy and started chopping at it. Another yucca was only a few feet away for Tobe. Dozens of stiff, leathery leaves rose in all directions from a central root. Tobe grabbed one of the leaves, avoiding the sharp point on the end, and swung his machete at the bottom of the thick leaf where it attached to the base.  He stuffed it into his 40-gallon forage bag.

     Bhetan said, “Alfy’s outta here in four days. 18 more moons until I hit 7,000, but what I want is my own wagon, like Uncle Joe. My own wagon is good enough for me, but Alfy says he wants the whole universe.”

     “What’s rumspringa?”

     Bhetan stopped chopping. “You sure have a lot to learn. When you turn 7,000, you get full access. Rumspringa is the final six weeks before you turn 7,000–you get 8 hours a day of access.”

     “Access to what?”


     “I already have access to everything,” Tobe said. He could get headband views of any place on Earth.

     “Nah,” Bhetan said, stuffing the last leaves from one yucca rosette into his forage bag and moving to another plant. “You’ve been blocked from the good stuff. The Tribe wants us to live in the here-and-now, in the “real world,” as they call it. There’s a lot more to life than just the real world.”

     It didn’t take long to complete their harvest. With their forage bags bulging they headed back to the wagon. They don’t worry about getting lost in the woods: their headbands give them whatever directions they need, but they are experienced foragers who keep track of their path.

     On the walk back to the wagon, Bhetan said, “Tobe doesn’t know what you can do on rumspringa, Alfy. Tell him about working in magma.”

     Alfy stopped and became glassy-eyed in thought. “It’s as though you’re there in your body, except you’re a hundred feet tall, swimming through magma, seeing wavelengths of heat that the robots can sense and they convert it to human-vision levels.”

     He stared at nothing, lost in a trance.

     Bhetan said, “It’s for the SkyRing. The space elevator at Sri Lanka needs a constant flow of magma up the tube as raw materials for the robots to keep building the SkyRing.”

     Alfy resumed walking. “You have to herd a flow of magma toward the surface and help it follow fractal fissures upward. If an opening is blocked, you use your hands to press it open, or grab a huge double handful of magma and force it upward as the point of the spear to burst free through the opening so the surge can continue upward. And then to the near-surface channels that lead to the space elevator off the south tip of India. It looks like this.” He sent a video to Tobe’s headband: the base of the huge Space Elevator where the magma is lifted into to orbital level as molten globules inside the graphene tube of the elevator. Beads on a string rising up into the sky.

     “It’s like you’re using your hands to squeeze the stuff up into a funnel to a hose. Except you’re clenching the interior of a planet with massive electromagnetic fields. It’s so cool.”

     “It’s the reason the Earth rotates slower now than in the Before Time,” Bhetan said. “One orbital period used to be 365 days, and now it’s only 360 days. 30 days per moon.”

     “It’s not just this one project,” Alfy said. “Working on any project with the robots makes you so much more than human. You’re super when you’re enmeshed with everybody else on a project.”

     Then they were back at the Grandview Point parking lot, and Geen’s wagon arrived at the same time. Granny told Geen it was okay to park on Granny’s tarp at the edge of the parking lot and deploy his solar tarp down over the edge. “Or just leave your tarp in the roll, the late afternoon sun isn’t going to do you that much good, anyway. And there are going to be a lot of wagons crammed in around here. We’ll all be able to recharge on the way back down the hill. Good old regenerative braking. And, boys, dump your yucca leaves in Geen’s matter-bin–I’ve uploaded the instructions to Geen’s printers.”