Nanogatherers 2.2: Tobe Has Lunch
by Colin Campbell

      When they got back to Granny’s wagon, the pizza was already hot and fresh-printed, but not in the kitchen.  Zina called to them from one of the printer alcoves on the side of the wagon under the graphene canopy. “Over here, boys, everything inside is chugging away on backpacks.”  Zina had 17 henna rings tattooed on her arms; five of her children were currently residing in the wagon. Besides Alfy and Bhetan, she had Oreena, 952 days old, and Plentar and Yaple, twins 2,232 days old. Ethan, the father of Zina’s three younger kids, was leaving for his own daily forage. 

     Zina handed the boys a plate stacked with pizza slices. They took their food and drinks to the same table where Toby had eggs benedict breakfast with Granny this morning, but now adults and little kids were swarming around.  Toddlers were playing with toys in the dirt and a group of seven- and eight-year-olds from Uncle Joe’s wagon were clambering around on the rocks and looking down at the Grand Canyon.

     Everybody in Granny’s wagon was busy preparing for the big gathering. Dhalia had only two henna rings. Her kids Trench and Chiaang were both under 2,000. Beth is almost as old as Bhetan and already has one henna ring for her toddler Maynard, and is 8 moons pregnant.

     Alfy said, “It’s too busy round here, let’s go to the loft.”

     “Yeah, let’s go up,” Bhetan said. He climbed the access ladder to the top of the wagon. “Come on up, Tobe.”

     Then Tobe was up on top and saw there were folding chairs. The boys sat down and ate in relative privacy while other people tromped in and out of the wagon underneath them.   

     “This is where we hide out from the kids and the grownups,” Alfy said.      “And you’re not a kid anymore, so it’s okay for you to be here with us,” said Bhetan.

     “Let’s see how long it’s going to be until everybody gets here,” Alfy said. The satellite view of their present location popped up in Tobe’s headband viewer. The boys ate their pizza while watching the red-dot icons of the other wagons, which now showed vector arrows as they approached. Alfy called out the names of the wagons that were climbing toward Grandview Point. “Geen’s already here. Yolanda’s wagon is close, and then Roxanne, Olive, Bali, Vivace, and, who…oh, it’s Aunt Corva, who keeps crows, haven’t seen her in a long time.”

     “Look, even Irvin is coming,” Bhetan said. “This is going to be the biggest meatspace meeting evar.”

     “I saw Irvin this morning,” Tobe said.

     “Irvin talked to you?!?”

     “Well, it was a holo, but, yeah”

     “What did Irvin say to you?”   

     “He only wanted to know about the wine at the hotel,” Tobe said.

     There were clusters of Tribe factions. Granny and Joe had a following of several other wagons that stayed physically close. Irvin had his own following and they didn’t always physically intermix with Granny and Uncle Joe.

     But they were always intermixing, generally. In the present case the Tribe was heading to the Pacific coast for a change of scenery and diet. Granny wanted real clams from Pismo Beach. Sometimes the tail end of the Tribe group would keep on driving at night, not just to the nearest forage but to the very front of the group. Everybody was strung out along old US Interstate 40.

     There was no hurry.

     “I can’t believe Irvin talked to you,” Alfy said. “He’s older than Granny, older than anybody else in the Tribe. As far as we know, he’s the oldest man on earth. Except for the ones in robot pods, of course.”

     Lots and lots of ancient Boomers were still technically alive, or at least their bodies were alive, tended by robots, while their surviving consciousness was free to cavort in any holodeck scenario they chose.

     “Irvin is the guy who can explain what things were like before the Singularity. He’s the one person who saw the Singularity happen. He was traveling around, avoiding the big cities, before the Singularity.

     “It’s not that he knows what happened when the Singularity happened. Nobody understands that. But he has some recollections of what pre-Singularity life was like. “

     “What was the Singularity?” Tobe said.

     Alfy said, “You seem to be a moron about the Before Time.”

     “I don’t know what that is,” Tobe said. “Uncle Joe was saying something about it this morning.”

     “Go easy on him, Alfy,” said Bhetan. “He hasn’t been unblocked for half a day yet, do you remember what it was like back before YOU were unblocked? It’ll take time for him to catch up to your level.”

     “I already knew lots of stuff before I turned five thousand,” Alfy said.

     “Yeah, because Mom told you,” Bhetan said. “Remember what Granny said this morning:” he made quote marks in the air: “Tobe doesn’t have a mom.”

     “Say, that reminds me,” said Alfy. “Back in a minute, don’t go away.” Alfy climbed back down the ladder and went into the wagon.

     Bhetan said, “Alfy is on rumspringa and he’s itching to be away from the Tribe.” He shook his head. “We’ve always been best pals but since he got full robot access he’s been spending all his time linked. Now he’s going to be gone. I’m sad about him leaving but now maybe people will notice me.

     “I’m not like him, Bhetan said. “I’m going to get my own wagon. I want to have forty kids. Alfy wants to vanish into space.”

     Then Alfy was back and he handed Tobe a colorful pad of paper. “This is from the Before Time,” he said. “Don’t let Granny or Uncle Joe find out that you have it.”

     There were words on the front of the pad and his headband read them aloud in his ear: “National Geographic.”

     Tobe said, “What is this?”

     “It’s really old,”Alfy said. “It’s the way people communicated in the before time. They made millions of copies just like this and sent them all over the world. They called it a magazine.”

     “It was part of the Singularity?”

     “No, it was way before the Singularity.”

     “What are these numbers on the front?” Tobe asked.

     Alfy looked at them: OCTOBER, 1963.

     “It’s the moon when this issue was published to the world. In the pre-robot days they used to give names to different moons.”


     “It started as numerology to keep track of the phases of the Moon,” Alfy said. “That was before the bots started re-arranging the solar system.”

     Tobe opened the National Geographic and saw a column of symbols. They were words. The headband began reading the words aloud into Tobe’s ear as he looked at them.

     “I don’t get it,” Tobe said. “What is this thing for?”

     “There’s important stuff in here,” Alfy said. “You can’t trust anything the robots tell you about the past. This magazine was made before the Singularity, before digital reality became infinitely malleable.” He opened the magazine and pointed to a picture and then hastily moved the magazine behind his back as Uncle Joe’s head popped into view. “Come on, you guys, there’s a lot of work to do, get down here.”