By Bodhi Chattopadhyay
Bodhisattva Chattopadhyay is Associate Professor in Global Culture Studies at the University of Oslo, Norway. He leads the international research group CoFUTURES. Chattopadhyay is the leader (PI) of two major research projects funded by the European and Norwegian Research Councils, which explore contemporary global futurisms movements from a transmedial perspective, including literature, film, visual arts, and games.
A speculative encounter and correspondence on the future of displacement, belonging, un-belonging, and deep time.
I am waiting here for the window to appear again. It hasn’t appeared for the past few weeks. Sorry for not communicating these previous few months. Things have been pretty crazy over here. I have so much to tell you. I wish this window would appear, and I could see outside, even though it always is only an illusion of closeness. She even promised she would look into it, and that was several weeks ago. How odd it is not to have a window. Still, hey, there are more important things than a window. The school roof collapsed three weeks ago. It just fell. No one was injured since it just hung there, suspended in the air, floating. It was so beautiful. Mom is so stressed these days. I even hear her swear and curse at times in our presence. She says the mycogrid is taking over the nanfiber frame, so it no longer responds appropriately to our programming. I mean, the LEOs were supposed to be resilient, the arks for dying humanity. None of this should stop working. At least that’s what they teach us about the UN-ERA. I can imagine you laughing now. Don’t. This is serious.
But anyway, the roof came back up on its own. It just looks very different. There are these zig-zagging red lines, and the surface is quite rough, like it might be some strange geological deposit instead of the usual shiny monochrome. It looks a bit like that fuchsite rock I saw at the Homecoming Museum. They are not using the school premises, though. We have all been moved to Rhine Hall instead. That place is off limits now, and I only saw it afterwards because mom is working there. But things have been happening throughout LEO. This is just one thing out of many. That’s why I didn’t get a chance to write to you. What happens if this happens at Rhine Hall. Where do we move? Where do we keep moving? I am not sure they know any better. You can’t have true resilience if you think short term, to be honest. You must operate on oversized clocks. Thousands of years. I mean, just think about it. They believed humans belong to one space and not to another, yet the same space looks so different just ten-twenty-fifty years apart, not to speak of 500 or 5000 years. I don’t even need to think science fiction these days, we are in it. The UN-ERA was supposed to be just 10 years, and yet, here we are, 27 years in.
Mom says that we are condemned to live and die here in this space mausoleum. I am not so pessimistic. Anyway, they think they want to take us below. I don’t know if that is even possible. We all have to vote on something in a month or two – not me, but you know what I mean. I don’t know what I would be more excited about, seeing new people, or stepping foot on dirt that is held up by dirt, without fearing that the soil might suddenly give way and change shape. Soil all the way down. They don’t even tell us what it actually is like, to be honest. We only see it in the screen, and through our windows. But I think the window in my room will come back. Or maybe I won’t need it anymore. Do message.
I have been worried sick about you. They haven’t heard from LEOs 2, 5, and 6 for six months now. We can see them, but 1 and 3 are the only ones that still look somewhat intact. 2, 4, 5, and 6 – it’s such a sight. They always looked like shapeless clouds, but now they look like a red shell, a rock suspended in the sky. We have heard from LEO-4 and it seems like it is collapsing all over inside, just like the school roof. Your mom might be right, we think the same thing down below. The nanites are failing because the fungus is playing with us. We have been trying to replicate the same experiments on a small scale here below, but the programmable matter just doesn’t “survive” beyond a point.
We know about the vote. LEO-3 is voting too. But I don’t think their voting is worth anything. I’m feeling more gloomy these days, to be honest. The feed is enough to make anyone cynical. They say you are the ones who chose to leave us here below, living with the illusion that you were the gods who could look down upon us through your windows, while we were the wretched so it was our job to clean up the earth while you lived pleasant lives up there. They say the UN-ERA was just a sham to keep the poor here on earth gathering resources just so you could have larger bedrooms up there. And that it was really all stolen tech much like stolen land. And that when you gave us the land back it was only because there was nothing left on it to exploit. After all, even the mycogrid is just indigenous tech. Our tech. It was archaeological material recovered in old North Africa that first suggested the prevalence of fungal architecture in the ancient world. Their use in space research only came later. Instead of trying to use the tech to build more habzones here on earth, we spent our resources building LEOs as the scalable intermediate solution. Reality’s much more complicated, I know, but what can you do with politicians. They say you won’t be welcome here, there isn’t enough space, and we have a hard enough time keeping the habitation zones habitable with the population we have, most of the earth is still uninhabitable, how will we sustain life, etc. The usual.
I really don’t know what to say M. All we talk about these days it seems is who belongs where. I don’t know whether we were your refugees, or you are ours. All I have is the gut feeling that it doesn’t really matter, at the end of the day. All I believe is that the earth has been big enough for all of us, and we have to be big enough for the earth. All I hope is that the window will come back.
They voted last week, 298-2, to try and attempt a return. Like you wrote to me last, none of us are sure if they can. The Earth Restoration Agency might give us clearance to land. In the meantime, things have only become much worse. There was a grid blockout just the other day, and for four hours we were told to preserve oxygen. I don’t know if it’s better to die of asphyxiation in the dark, or being slowly crushed under a falling roof in the light – yes, the roof fell again. Many roofs in fact. Rhine Hall too.
Sorry I don’t mean to sound all complainy. We only get to transmit 3000 characters these days so I don’t want to spend all my time talking about everything that’s going wrong. There’s no window (yet) but things could be worse. We have returned to some semblance of normality this last week though. While the nanfiber frame is still beyond our programming, it seems the mycogrid has partially stabilised. There are jokes that the fungus has achieved sentience, now that we have finally voted to return it is leaving us alone to plan our exit. All the other LEOs are gone, it seems. 87% of space humanity wiped out in two years. If it is true that the mycogrid is sentient, what mistake did those LEOs make, I wonder.
Mom says we should prepare for a swift descent, if things came to that, and that we would land somewhere in the vicinity of habzone 9, the old Australia. All I know about old Australia is that by the time of the UN-ERA it was too hot and that with the seventh extinction it had lost nearly 93% of all its life. I don’t know why I am so obsessed with numbers these days. I think of everything in terms of numbers. Maybe it’s because numbers are everywhere. Our population is 12,198,767. Earth population is 791,278,666. If we collapse, the loss of 12, 198, 767 people already in exile is insignificant in terms of the overall numbers. Don’t you think?
This page is part of UNHCR’s Project Unsung collection and portfolio. Project Unsung is a speculative storytelling project that brings together creative collaborators from around the world to help reimagine the humanitarian sector. To discover move about the initiative and other contributions in the collection, you can go to the project website here.