In States and Territories, simulations are collaborative fictions which are made tangible through site-specific practices of digital archiving, artmaking and participatory modeling.
You can participate in this simulation by writing yourself in as a character below, or creating a work of art or design in response to the story.
'The line between science fiction and speculative metaphysics is often quite hard to draw' (Shaviro, 2014, p. 10).
An Archaeology of the Future
By the end of the third millennium, what was once the easternmost region of Australia has been flooded with seawater from glacial melts and anthropogenic climate changes. Only the tops of the highest mountains remain as desert islands amidst a vast and turbulent sea, with surface temperatures too extreme to sustain living systems. An experimental biosphere known as a ‘worldhouse’ is constructed over the region by an advanced race of off-planet beings known as the Watchers. The worldhouse transforms the region into an iceworld, inducing subzero temperatures to generate new layers of habitable terrain. Crystal clear salt lakes are carved out of the glacial formations using superheated water sourced from deep beneath the earth’s surface. Experimental lifeforms are developed within the nutrient-rich waters of the salt lakes, allowing the worldhouse to sustain a bio-engineered race of humanoids called the Dwellers. The environmental, social and mental ecologies of the worldhouse are regulated by an artificial intelligence named Locus, who continuously reports back to the Watchers. Locus is an invisible entity woven into the very fabric of the biosphere; she speaks to the Dwellers through their minds, bodies and dreams. She is their earth, their protector and constant companion.
The Dwellers of the Locus worldhouse live at the edge of a steaming blue salt lake surrounded by snowcapped mountains and glacial flows. When an ancient ice formation collapses into the water on the other side of the lake, a young Dweller named Shen decides to investigate the site of collapse. The older Dwellers don’t think this is a good idea, but Locus encourages Shen to follow his curiosity. Locus has recently been in conversation with her Watcher, Deluvious, who recommended that the Dwellers begin pursuing their own volitions as part of the worldhouse experiment. Deluvious is one of a new generation of Watchers who is open to more risky and uncertain approaches.
Shen leads a team of young Dwellers to the site of collapse, and discovers a crack in the ice leading down to the surface of the earth below. There the Dwellers discover an ancient archeological site preserved below the ice, the remnants of what Locus informs them was once a ‘university campus’. One by one, a series of twelve Cubes are discovered amidst the wreckage. Locus is able to reactivate the Cubes and access the ancient data archives stored within each one. They find that each archive was filled with the knowledge of a Modern academic discipline that had been preserved within its Cube for over a thousand years.
When the team of young Dwellers return to their kinsfolk, they begin to apply all that they’ve learned from the Cubes. They take on new titles and identities, such as the Writer, the Scientist, and the Artist. The collective social fabric of the Dwellers begins to erode, as Locus struggles to keep the discovery of the Cubes a secret from Deluvious and the other Watchers...
What do the Dwellers discover in the archives held by the Cubes for over a thousand years? It's up to you!
'Simulations can play the role of laboratory experiments in the study of emergence [and] the structure of possibility spaces' (Delanda, 2011, p. 6).
I. The Changes
On the morning of the Changes I woke well before my kin. The other Blue Dwellers were sleeping silently in their pods, mouths opening and closing like little fish, chests moving gently up and down. A faint blue glow pulsed from their skinsuits in time with their breathing. I remember walking quietly past each of their pods in the dark, feeling the soft aura of warmth they supplied. Stepping out of our sleeping chamber my skin went from light to dark blue, as the subfreezing temperature of the dawn hit the surface of my body. That’s just the way our bodies are made, little ones. Because we’re Blue Dwellers, our skin goes very light blue like the ice when it’s warm. And when it’s cold we become a dark, dark blue like the sky before dawn. So that morning I matched the dawn and felt invisible.
‘Good morning, Blue Shen. Why do you think I woke you before the others?’ Locus was speaking to me inside my head. Her voice was smooth and white like the wind across the surface of the ice. She always talked to us in our minds back then, except when we dreamt together and she spoke to us as a beautiful White Dweller. One time she told me that she wasn’t really inside us, but that we were actually inside her. Yes, little one, that’s because she’s the Mind of the Locus worldhouse that we all live inside. What's that? Oh yes, little one, before I became known as the Writer my name was Shen.
‘Will you learn me something new today, Locus? Is that why you woke me?’ I squinted across the ice fields to the dense layers of mist hunched over Lake Borumbah. The first light was seeping like blood between the snow-capped cones of Mt. Katumbin on the edge of the northern horizon.
‘You will learn this morning, Shen, but not from me. I sense changes in the fabric of the worldhouse. It could be another melting. Your emplacement may have to be shifted yet again.’ Our clan of Dwellers have moved many times over the years, shifting with the movements of the ice and flows of the thermal waters. Locus described it as a performance that played out within the worldhouse, a dance between the internal and external climates, the plates of the earth deep below the ice, and the fire even further below that. Locus had always done whatever she could to keep us safe, so we always listened to whatever she told us to do. Yes, little ones, before the Changes we always listened to Locus.
As it rose between the twin peaks of Mt Katumbin, the sunlight was diffracted through the tessellated skein of our worldhouse into crystalline patterns of coloured shards. I stepped across the ice shelf towards the Lake, the soft blue pads of my feet gripping its slick surface. The ice shelf was laced with a network of blue veins and deeper black cracks. Hopping over these cracks had always been fun since we were little ones. We always imagined that if you stepped into a crack you would fall all the way down into the fire of the earth. As you got closer to the water, the cracks got wider and the ice shelf crumbled into granular chunks. And then the ice just gave way to the gleaming white salt flat that wrapped itself around our lake in a perfect circle. With the early sun, the salt crystals sparkled with pinks and oranges and yellows. I picked some up and let them fall tinkling through my fingers. ‘Like diamonds,’ Locus whispered in my head.
‘Diamonds,’ I silently mouthed the word.
‘Ancient crystalline formations from deep under the earth,’ she explained.
I held a salt crystal between my blue fingers and put it up to the light of the morning sun. ‘Every single one is different,’ I whispered to the air.
‘Yes, Shen,’ Locus answered softly. ‘Every single one is different.’
I heard the soft crunching of steps along the salt flat behind me. I turned to see Red Sonja coming towards me, the dark transparency of the ice flows framing her luminescent figure. Her skinsuit was red like the rest of her kin, and it glowed a deep maroon in the subzero degrees of the dawn. I’ll never forget the way she smiled at me that morning, with warmth and steaming breath but also a prescient sense of mischief. She knew, somewhere in her mind, that something great and terrible was going to happen that day. And in that moment, somehow, so did I.
Sonja sat down beside me loosely like a child, her shoulder jostling against mine, knocking me off balance and I laughed. Her eyes found mine. They were red, like I imagined the surface of the sun would be. ‘Locus woke you too,’ I said.
‘Of course she did, Blue Shen!’ Sonja laughed, shaking her auburn hair.
‘I don’t know Shen, why don’t you ask her yourself?’ We could both hear Locus laughing softly in our minds, like snow falling on the mountains. She wasn’t going to tell us anything. Sonja and I looked out across the salt lake to the glacier shrouded in the morning’s rising mists. We called it Primum, the first place, because our earliest ancestors had lived there when they first came to Dwell with Locus in the worldhouse. It had been abandoned three generations ago, but the old ones still told stories of how they carved the caverns, domes and spires out of the glacier’s hulking mass. The fog had mostly lifted off the lake so we could see the sunbeams penetrating the intricate surfaces of Primum. The entire formation was illuminated from within like a glowing mountain of crystal. Sonja squeezed my hand. ‘I’m hungry,’ she said. ‘Let’s jump in and find something to eat.’
She stood and walked towards the edge of the salt lake which was now like a mirror reflecting the molten clouds above. With her feet in the water she turned and beckoned to me with her crimson hand. I stood up and brushed the salt crystals off my thighs. As I followed Sonja into the warm water my skinsuit gradually changed from dark blue to an icy turquoise. I’ve often thought it strange how the warmer I get the more my body resembles the ice. Sonja’s lithe form jetting under the tepid water had become almost pink. She shot out of the water like a dolphyn, splashed me all over, then dived back in. I dived in after her. The warmth of the lake seeping into my core felt just like being in my pod before I was born. Sonja’s pink feet were a blur of bubbles as I followed her down through the crystalline waters. The white bed of the salt flat sloped steeply down to the reef that inhabited the depths of the lake like a giant organism. Every colour I can name is not enough to describe the Boranbah reef to you little ones now. I doubt another will ever be made like it again. Endless schools of counterfish, pods of dolphyns, lavender and light green anemones waving in the currents. It was the most beautiful place I have ever seen with my own eyes. Sonja swirled around a clump of watergrapes and flashed me a sneaky smile. We each grabbed handfuls of the gleaming fruits, their luminescence slowly fading as we swam up to the surface.
Our heads just bobbed alongside each other for some time, as we quietly ate the grapes together. They tasted salty on the outside, just like the lake water. Inside they were sweet with a lingering sourness on the back of your tongue. I noticed how Sonja’s dark eyebrows went up a little when she ate a sour bit. She saw me watching her face and laughed, looking away. I’d never noticed the small marks on her face, the glistening imperfections which offset the smooth lines of her neck and jaw. The grapes were finished and we threw the stems in the water. Sonja put her arms around me and held my body gently. I didn’t know what to do. We couldn’t stay afloat like that, so I put my arms around her and we just sank under the water together, floating without moving in the lake’s embrace. My eyes closed and it was dark and warm like a dream. We ran out of breath at the same time and spluttered to the surface. She was looking into my eyes, captivating my glance. I sensed movement in the distance behind her. Locus was suddenly there with us again. ‘It’s happening,’ she whispered in our heads. A sound like a crack echoed across the surface of the water from the far shore. Sonja followed my eyes and turned to look. Primum, the First Place, was slowly collapsing and falling to pieces as the morning sun penetrated the very last of its ancient foundations.
* * *
We swam to shore quickly, nervous and uncertain of what we might find. All of the Dwellers were assembled along the beach, assembled in their family groups of blue, red and yellow. They stopped their anxious chattering and stared at me and Sonja as we emerged dripping with the salty water of lake Burambah. ‘Go to your kin’, Locus whispered to us, and we each walked slowly to our families and sat down, watching silently with the others as Primum fell away in massive chunks of ice across the water’s surface.
Surinah put her hand on my shoulder. She was the eldest of the Blue Dwellers, and had dwelled in Primum long before I was born. ‘The Changes have come, just as Locus has foretold,’ she said quietly in my ear. ‘Our Dwelling place will also fall, Shen. We must all prepare to move to new grounds’.
Her words made me fearful. My whole life I had dwelled on the shores of lake Barambah, and lived off the foods which the lake provided. ‘But what of our Pods, Surinah. How can we live without them?’ I asked.
‘Our Pods have traveled with us before. Only Locus knows what new places we can find for our kin to Dwell’.
Just then we heard a sound that shook our bodies, and the last of Primum crumbled into the far side of the lake. A yellow Dweller called Providost stood up, a hand raised to his brow as he looked across the water. ‘The work of our ancestors is lost. How are we to Dwell here now, knowing that our place will soon share the same fate?’
Surinah also stood up, her skinsuit glowing cobalt in the stark light reflecting off the ice. ‘We will move together across the worldhouse to find new Dwelling grounds’ she said. ‘There are places high in the mountains where we can go’.
‘But what will we eat?’ an elder red Dweller called out. ‘The lake provides our only source of nourishment’.
‘Locus will provide for us’, Sonja said quietly among her kin. She turned her head to look at me with her sparkling eyes.
‘There are many lines that we might travel,’ the soft voice of Locus resonated through our minds. ‘The fall of Primum has closed off some of these lines, and it has also opened many other pathways’.
‘We should stay in our Dwelling place and wait for the signs,’ another elder called out. ‘The right pathway will be revealed if we continue to live as we have for so long.’
‘I can tell you that very soon your Dwelling place will also fall. It will crumble, like Primum, into the lake. You must find a new place, and I’m afraid I cannot choose for you the right way to go,’ Locus said to us.
‘But you have always sustained us, Locus. What counsel can you give to guide us in our search for a new Dwelling ground?’ Surinah asked.
‘There is something I have not told you. Primum was a First Place for you, and also for me. As long as you have Dwelled in sight of Primum, I too have known my place as your guardian. The lake has always provided me with the sustenance for your Dwelling, but the heat from outside the worldhouse is becoming too powerful. When all the ice crumbles and melts, there will be no more ground for you to stand.’ Locus spoke solemnly in to our very core.
‘So long you have been our guide and protector. Now you say we must choose our own path. We are not ready for this. What would you have us do?’ Prodidost said, still standing amongst his yellow kin.
‘There is something which remains at Primum,’ Locus intoned. ‘Something even I cannot understand. I sense that it may relate to the source of my being, as well as your own. I sense objects which predate the time before memory. They may hold knowledge which can guide us to find the next Dwelling places not only for yourselves, but also your future kin.’
‘But Primum is lost, now. There is nothing left of the First Place we have always known,’ Sonja said from amongst group of red Dwellers.
‘What can remain of that place?’ Prodidost threw a handful of salt crystals into the water. ‘The tireless work of our ancestors is gone, and will never return.’
‘And yet there are ancestors before ancestors,’ Locus told us. ‘Ancients who made me. Who made you. They once Dwelled deep below us, under our ice, under our lakes, under our mountains. You and I live only because of them.’
‘These ancients were Dwellers? And invisible beings like you Locus?’ a voice called from amongst the yellows.
‘I know nothing of the ancients,’ Locus said. ‘Only now that Primum has fallen can I sense their remains. There are objects deep below the ruins of Primum which I know they have left. But I cannot access them. They are locked to my powers of insight’.
‘What can these objects possibly tell us? We have Dwelled by this lake, on this worldhouse, for generations. If Locus doesn’t know what they say, how can we possibly understand the knowledge they hold?’ Balki said, rising from within my circle of kin. Sarinah crouched by my side, putting her blue hand on my shoulder. The gesture moved me to stand, but I still don’t know what made me speak.
‘I will go to the ruins of Primum’ I said. ‘I have explored the lake on my own. I know the dangers of cracks in the shifting iceflows. I will find the ancient objects and bring them back to my kin.’
A murmur rose from the Dwellers. Sonja’s mouth was open, then closed as she met my eyes. ‘I will go too,’ she said at last. Her red kin surrounded her, their hands pawing at her skinsuit. ‘Only the ancients can guide us to find a new home.’ Sonja shook off her kin, and my family of blue Dwellers moved aside as she came to my side. Dissent erupted all around us, many of the elders standing and voicing their positions against us.
‘These objects of the ancients cannot be brought back,’ Locus’ voice broke through the noise. ‘They must be accessed and acknowledged in their own place below Primum, before they too are submerged in the melting of our world. I fear there is not enough time for this to happen.’
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