Head down, Nate scanned the ground in front of his feet as he walked. He was moving quickly, kicking at the shale and loose rocks. It was highly possible that he was leaving scrap in his wake but he didn’t care. He wanted to cross a road or a creek and get this particular plain behind him, to begin again, on fresh terrain.
He couldn’t stop thinking about the binoculars, wondering if a pair had ever been found. If so, it would have been back during the time directly after The Alteration. ‘Back in the day.’ That was another phrase he heard a lot from the older folk. It was difficult to draw them on the subject and there was a general reluctance to speak about it but Nate understood. It had been a harrowing time, fraught with a sense of urgency that was still palpable all these years later. He had studied it in school, they all had. The clearing of the bodies and the attempts at re-building a community. A lot of useful things had been saved of course. Tools and utensils, tinned food stuff and some medical supplies. But the Scholars had quickly insisted how important it was to find and reclaim the Tech and a group of Gatherers were selected from the youngest and fittest of the survivors.
The oldest person in the Settlement was Martha, she was almost eighty, sharp as a whip – another of the old phrases which was bandied about. She had been nearly thirty then. Martha wasn’t chosen as a Gatherer. She had been a nurse before and it was necessary that she remain at the Settlement and help to care for the injured and the sick.
The gathering took almost a decade and, as the years progressed, the Scholars compiled lists of items they deigned worthy of saving. These lists consisted almost exclusively of computer parts, screens, monitors, disks and drives, cables and circuit boards. Equally as important were the handheld devices; laptops and tablets, music players and games consoles and, of course, phones. Apart from these components and devices nobody was really sure what else languished in the archives.
Most of the older folk were reluctant to criticise the Scholars and their decisions as to what was important to gather but Martha was different. She railed quite openly about their narrow thinking and had no fear of them. In fact, some of the Scholars still visited her for counsel, discourses which were not shared with the rest of the community, which caused some to be suspicious of Martha as they were never visited by any Scholar. They whispered amongst themselves about Martha the Militant, the woman who challenged the Scholars and was a thorn in their side, but was somehow their confidant. What did she know?
Nate recalled a night he had visited Martha and the conversation had taken a turn. They had been discussing the early days after the Alteration when Martha turned to him.
‘In retrospect, we were foolish.’ She had said ‘we’ and not ‘they’ – apportioning a share of the blame on herself. ‘We shouldn’t have been so short-sighted, so obstinate, so focused on the Tech. But had I been the one in charge I probably would have done exactly the same. It’s difficult for you youngsters.’ She glared, angry. Not at him but at the way things were. ‘You can’t understand because you have no memory of how it was before.’
Nate decided he would ask Martha about the binoculars when he returned to the Settlement, if a pair had ever been found. If they had, he was certain she would remember.