In a distant city, the air pollution is so bad that breathing is a struggle. Proxy supercomputers that power the governmental computational practices of today’s hiperCities suck oxygen out of the area and spew out carbon dioxide. Breathing masks are necessary to go outside. When polluted clouds started to frequently cover the city your communities welfare started to be at risk. Your community constructed filters that block out the worst of this pollution but they also starve the air of oxygen. How do you [as a collective] breathe?
At night you’re at risk of slipping into unconsciousness and death because of low oxygen levels. So you sleep between speakers - raised up on a netted platform that stretches across the room. The impeccably tuned speakers force your lungs to continue to inhale and exhale throughout the night, moving to the pace of the sub bass.
Sleeping with others to the same beat means you start to synchronise your breaths
And with that your dreams have started to synchronise as well. People start to meet each other in dreams. However, it’s not just who is in physical proximity to one another in the sleep areas that populate these dreamscapes. Characters from the future, past, and from distant places begin to seep into these bass rocked dreamed.
This story follows the nexus of breathing, soundsystem culture, dreaming, and climate damage. Some of the characters that appear in the dreams are from audio recordings but live on in these dream worlds.
Batsuma had been fiery throughout her youth. She had torn up every ranga that she stepped foot in. Pushed through the doors by her loving family on cold winter mornings she quickly made her district’s rangas her plaything. Countless Mouds were shaken by how well she could hijack the classes momentum, turning the best behaved youth into storm raisers.
It took until Batsuma was fully adult to recognise she was sinking.
Her rage was driving her into forced isolation from her community. Despite the best efforts of her districts elders, and despite help from Mouds who had travelled from the marshlands, Batsuma’s fire continued to burn any friendships she made. The elder Mouds finally realised that it would never be them who changed Batsuma ways, that change would have to come from within. They decided that they would continue to support Batsuma as best they could, they would stop her falling into the hands of the [hi]perCity, but ultimately Batsuma’s will was too forceful to be directed by them.
Batsuma was unhappy. Throughout her early adult life she was turned inwards by her district. Those who used to play with Batsuma in the ranga would only nod as they passed her at market. Her aunts no longer stopped on their way past her housing, for fear that Batsuma might twist them against their family.
At first, Batsuma raged against her isolation. She would march the streets at night shouting through her mask, condemning her family to the breathless place. As she cursed she felt a pocket of air building in her mind, slowly over time.
After many months had passed Batsuma began to adjust, and found her solace in books. She read wild fictions that led her away from herself. She embraced the characters as ancestral versions of herself and learnt from them as much as she could. Books piled up on Batsuma’s floor. They started pointing to something. They told her that there were co-ordinates for escape written in by past generations. They pointed to a place of fire. That was how Batsuma would escape. That was where Batsuma would find peace.
So, she began to read about the fire, transitioning from her usual fictions to sciences. These sciences told her stories that explained how the fire had come to be, they told her about the kindling that had been ripped from slaughtered trees to ignite the fire, the vast planes that were decimated to give the fire its place, and the fuel that was plundered from earth to make the first roar. As she read, the pocket of air that had encroached into her mind began to move outwards, towards the fire. She learnt of the genocidal movements that swept species away to make room for the fire, and about the cultures and ancestors she had been destroyed by the fire. And through the reading, Batsuma’s rage found a resting place.
She began to dream that she was floating above the fire in her pocket of air. She dreamed that she had lungs that stretched down further than she could see and that she was spraying immense, watery, breaths onto the fire. In some dreams she burned. Bastuma would wake suddenly, short of breath. But in some the fire was doused and when she returned another night she saw something in its place, a dark brown bog with small patches of green
Batsuma was transformed. She worked night and day to try to understand the fire, hoping she would one day put it out. This wouldn’t be easy of course, because she was deeply embedded within its flames.
In her days Bastuma’s shouting stopped. Market sellers started to love talking to Batsuma. Water-jumpers would discuss the oceans with her for hours, telling her about the ways of life that had been created there. Their vast underwater communities.
The pocket of air that was one in Batsuma’s head now surrounded her. Relieved of the pressure Batsuma breathed deeply.
It’s gone dark now. Batsuma climbs up the ladder to take her place on the netting. At this point she’s refused the help that’s offered to her so many times that the young civs no longer try to help. “sleep well Batsuma, may you find strength tonight” they shout
A light, dreamy song plays over the speakers in the adjacent kitchen. As she crawls across the netting to a comfortable spot a young civ slides a door across to close the room off. Silence
Batsuma sits for a while in the place, examining the item she’s holding in her wrinkled hands. Her grey hair is braided in a single coil that hangs by her side. She’s holding two small earbuds, attached with a wire. They’re designed to shut out all noise using a highly efficient wave cancellation algorithm design by Batsuma herself. Although everyone in the civ thinks they’re perfect, Batsuma is not yet certain of her work. She brings her eye to the soft gel surrounding the electronics, checking whether the gel has returned to its neutral position. The ear buds mould to the wearers ears each night and then lock into place, creating a tiny vacuum below them, to stop sound passing. The ear buds have tiny speakers in them the resonate the cartilage in the ear to eliminate any sound residue. Batsuma plugs each bud into her ears and lies back. She’s the first to need rest tonight, she’s been feeling oxygen depleted for the last hour or so. Recognisably groggy. Her recline gives the signal to the start up the subs.
The sonic boom of a bass hit at 37.455Hz traverses the netting. It shifts the air out of Batsuma and she hangs for a minute without breath before being weightlessly dragged back into the netting with an electromagnetic smoothness. The air around her flows into her lungs, filling them to their depths.
The first hit is followed by another, slowly forming a pattern.
Static amongst the rhythm, Batsuma drifts off.
Tezeta floats on the water. A vast expanse of water extends in every direction. The ocean spray fills her awareness. They lick their lips and are surprised once again to not taste the stagnant sweat of their bioMask’s interior but instead fresh salt. Ocean salt. Below her the waters are dark, with small flecks of colour dotted about here and there, far away.
They hear a call coming from behind, and turn to face it. The call loudens and knocks their head backwards for a second. They begin to spin. The oceans gust past her ears. Octaves bend backwards into each other. phantasmal oceanic tones that shift waves.
As Tezeta opens their eyes, they find themselves face to face with another civ they faintly recognise. The civ reaches out through the water to clutch at Tezeta’s arm which sends shivers through her body towards her lungs.
The civ clutches their other arm, stares Tezeta in the face then visibly mimes deep inhalation and exhalation
Their voice is urgent, worried
The civ squeezes Tezeta’s arms
Finally, they inhale lightly
water gushes into Tezeta’s body, weighing her down
and dragging the pair downwards, held in a cold embrace
They regulate a few seconds later. Much deeper now. Held together, in this way, they explore the surroundings, sometimes following spots of light to their origins where they reveal themselves as luminous clumps of seaweeds. sometimes the pair drop into the black abysses to see what they contain. Occasionally the depths spiral into the skies above great rocky plains, that resemble the crannies of old sun kissed skin.
The civs name is Sulis, from a distant place Tezeta doesn’t quite grasp but they don’t talk much, together they mostly explore, propelled by their breath.
Deep underwater they stop for a while. Resting in the abyssal darkness that surrounds them. Tezeta and Sulis slowly touch lips. The softness of the touch makes Tezeta shiver and slightly arouses them. Sulis leads, unperturbed, sucking in the water from Tezeta’s lungs and exchanging it for theirs. Tezeta responds and pulls water back towards their lungs. They continue like this until they’ve found the momentum of the place, the movement of the currents. Arms held to each other’s forearms, they keep pulling in the contents of each other’s lungs until they are fully synthesised such that Tezeta and Sulis can feel through the water. They travel deep into each other’s lungs, exploring each bronchiole, checking for signs of mutations and cancers
Slowly, Sulis fades away from Tezeta’s grip and Tezeta is left, floating in a vast expanse of slowly undulating water
Batsuma transformed her rage to dousing the fire [the hiperCity] by becoming a hacker. She funnels money from the city into the district to help buy restricted products for the most needed, and fakes scientific journal pieces to send the cities technoscientists running around in circles. She’s been doing this for years and now trains others in her machine learning techniques that use basic technological means and minimal electricity to put out the fire.