The Nanogatherers 1.9: Foraging

by Colin Campbell

     Tobe carried the bottle of liquor up the slope from Uncle Joe’s wagon and around the curve amid the tall pines to Grandview Point’s upper parking lot.

     Granny’s wagon was silent. The eggs benedict dishes and glasses were still on the table next to the wagon under the overhang of the solar tarp. He set down the liquor bottle on the table and gathered the dishes and put them into the matter bin at the front of the wagon.

     Nobody was up yet, and that was normal–the Tribe slept late. Tobe was the only one up in the morning, as usual. He was an outlier because of his early rising. He liked it, it was his own private time.

     The Grand Canyon rim still seemed unusual to Tobe. Unexpected. They’d been traveling west through arid scrublands with slim pickings for forage so they had to move often, and most of the time everybody knew about it if they were going to move overnight.

     But, here they were. He inhaled the creosote smell.        

     Time to go foraging. Every member of the Tribe was expected to forage every day, seeking and gathering food on foot. The daily exercise was a crucial factor in their health and longevity.

     Tobe didn’t know a thing about the flora and fauna of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, but the wagon knew and made the information available. He pulled up his headband’s satellite overview of Granny’s wagon and scanned for suggestions of what to bring back. The heads-up display of the neighboring terrain had overlays showing where the best stuff was. He could see anything on Earth via the headband. He could look at a leaf and zoom his headband view down to veins in the leaf and zoom further to see fluid flowing slowly through microveins.  but all he cared about was his immediate surroundings.   

     If he wanted to. It was hardly ever necessary.  

     He pulled the display up for a higher point of view and spotted a herd of mule deer nearby. He went into the wagon and opened the gun cabinet and took out the Browning .308 rifle.  He did it quietly so as not to waken Granny.  

     He pulled a forage bag off the roll on the side of the wagon and slung the .308 over his shoulder and headed across the solar tarp back to the road, in the direction away from where he and Uncle Joe had been walking.

     There was plenty of usable veg in the underbrush, according to the highlights around the veg from his headband, but he left the succulent yucca stalks and long white plumed cliffrose seeds for the little kids to gather when they got up.  The cliffrose fruits were clusters of dry, slender, leathery seedpods an inch or two long.

     Tobe didn’t have to be very selective while foraging. He didn’t have to worry whether a plant was nutritious or poisonous: the Wagon would take care of that. The main thing was non-woody volume. The headband illuminated certain parts of certain plants, and Tobe swung his machete and cut off those parts and put them in the forage bag as he walked along the road next to the tall pines  while heading toward the deer he’d seen from orbital view.

     He came to a clearing and climbed a ridge and saw the deer a hundred yards away on the downslope, six of them. No humans had been to Grandview Point in a hundred mule-deer generations and the deer no longer had any fear of humans.

     He picked out the biggest one and wrapped the strap of the leather sling around his wrist to snug up and stabilize the rifle, and then studied the heat mirage. It was like the current in water–it let you estimate the wind direction and strength.

     He brought down the deer with one shot. He ejected the cartridge and picked it up–have to conserve the brass! He left his bulging forage bag and cautiously approached the downed deer from the side away from its legs, carrying the rifle at the ready to discharge a finishing shot if necessary. No signs of chest movement from breathing, no eye blinking, or quivering of muscles. He picked up a three-foot stick to carefully touch the eyes softly to make sure the deer was dead. 

     He rolled the deer over, legs up, with the head on the uphill side, and field-dressed it: inserted his knife at the bottom of the sternum and cut through the abdominal wall and pulled the entrails out.

     He slung the carcass over his shoulders and carried it back to his forage bag and somebody was standing there–a man. Not there in person, it was a holo.  “Hi, Tobe,” he said. “I didn’t want to interrupt your hunt so I waited here, I knew you’d be back for your forage bag.”

     “Who are you?”

     “I’m sorry, I’m Irven, my wagon is on the way here–I got your Uncle Joe’s message and I saw your video of the whiskey. Congratulations about your birthday.”

     “Oh. I haven’t seen you before.” Tobe picked up the forage bag and began walking back to the wagon.

     Irven’s holo paced along with Tobe. “Now that you’re of age, you’ll be seeing more of us oldsters. I wanted to ask Joe a question but he’s not answering.”

     “He drank a lot and went back to bed as soon as we got to his wagon.”

     “I figured as much. The wagons’ booze taps give you low-proof drinks unless you specifically ask for straight shot. Uncle Joe probably isn’t accustomed to 90 proof whisky. Anyway, I was wondering if there was any wine in that storage area.”

     “Uncle Joe told me not to bother with it.”

     “Did you look at it earlier?”

     “I guess.”

     “Could you retrieve that part for me? I’m interested in it even if Joe isn’t. I’m wondering what kind of wine they had in stock.”  

     “What do you mean, retrieve?”

     “You know, rewind your video back to that time.”

     “No, I don’t know how to do that.”

     “Oh, that’s right. Well, you’ll be learning that soon enough. But there was wine there?”


     “Okay, thanks!” The holo of Irven vanished.

     When Tobe returned to Granny’s wagon some of the Tribe was up and about. Little kids were out with their little bags foraging–everybody had to forage. Other kids were swarming over the rocks at Grandview Point.

     They cheered him as he arrived: “Tobe got another one, yay!” He was well known as a constant provider of real meat.   The Tribe was proud of its knowledge of how to prepare meat without the help of the robots. If the robots vanished, the people would still be able to feed themselves.

     Hardly any of the adults were up and around, as usual. They didn’t get up until noon.

     Tobe put the deer into the matter bin at the front of the wagon, then went to the shower in the wagon and rinsed off the blood. He rarely showered. There was plenty of water–the wagon condensed water from the humidity in the air. But their lack of bathing is not due to water shortage, it was because of microbots in the bedding that groomed and cleansed Tribe members in their sleep. He pulled on his cargo shorts and tore a fresh t-shirt off the reel.