Turtle Island, Montreal, 2220
6 doses of Lévit
The albino woman is panting, she’s rushing. Even though the sun is slowly dimming, her pale skin still feels its subtle bite. Ken Bugul has managed to calm them, but they never stay silent for long. Inevitably, their yowling will rise amid the toxic emanations. In any case, even when they are quiet, the few inhabitants of the city detect within the silence the terrible promise of an escape.
She checks that the enormous locks hanging from the grating are solid. Then, she moves her hand over different parts of her used work suit—a robot on the verge of being recycled. She makes sure that the highly contaminated air of this zone hasn’t started to gnaw on any of its sections. These are purely mechanical gestures.
Reflexively, she shakes the grating as if to convince herself that no beastly strength could tear it loose and free the horde.
She hates her work, but checking the cages is the task she abhors the most, as if her flesh, at some time or other, had lived this imprisonment.
Usually, Ken Bugul is under the influence of the ten mandatory doses of Lévit, the synthetic drug developed by the Company. Usually, it works perfectly, putting her in the ideal state to neither see nor smell the excrement. She can only sense a portion of the horrors. The Lévit plunges her into a hazy world and wraps her body in a protective aura. This stops her from vomiting as she steps over the putrid meal remnants. She can forget that she’s walking through blood and excretions. Her brain and her senses are comatose. The correct dose of Lévit must be consumed in order to, as the screens proclaim, work with pleasure to welcome the nonrace. Today, she decided to take only six doses. She suspects that she is a key link in this heralded nonrace.
In her rare moments of lucidity, the young albino woman harbors no illusions: she will never take any pleasure in cleaning the Frédéric-Back park-zoo, this wound that extends across much of the Island of Montreal; she can just barely, in fleeting moments, forget its macabre nature. It’s a sore whose purulence corrupts the city’s streets, even though the park-zoo is well-removed from what’s left of the habitable zone.
Her colleagues tackle the same tasks, in the other section, with the usual lugubrious nonchalance. The few residents of the habitable zone, the straggling survivors, are thus occupied in the zoo, churches, and laboratories, against their will.
Her brain isn’t completely torpid, even though it’s been atrophied by the overconsumption of drugs and overexposure to screens. She did crack once, many years ago. At the time, the Company didn’t supervise the daily injections of Lévit. Ken Bugul made do with screens, believing, in her great naïveté, that this addiction would be enough to make her forget her bitter life in the habitable zone. She also wanted to soften the three hours she spent each day enclosed in the park-zoo, completing her tasks. Her memory was always full of the messages that scrolled on the screens—Tomorrow on Dakar. Tomorrow on KAMA—and the images of sun, fresh air, and animals that appeared prehistoric to her.
During that Lévit-free period, while she was cleaning out the cages and distributing rations of water and contaminated vegetables, Ken Bugul came across a little girl with green eyes. The girl smiled at her, with difficulty, raising what was left of her arm—a sort of bloody stump. And the next day, after having driven the herd away by tossing freezing water at them, Ken Bugul discovered her half-eaten corpse. That image haunted her for a week, not fading until she returned to the prescribed doses of Lévit.
Her hands tremble. It’s the same cage where the little one died. She doesn’t know her name, because they don’t have any, these migrants whose place of origin no one knows. They cull them at the border, in the air, they catch them in the water, they hunt them on land, and they bring them here, to the Frédéric-Back park-zoo.
Ken Bugul has an African name. In Lebu, it means “she whom no one wants.” It’s the name the Company gave her because even death didn’t want her. And also because of an ancestral superstition, issued from the guts of Mother Earth, that says you drive away a bad spell by making it believe that the newborn is dear to no one. Ken Bugul was born to one of the last fertile women, whose instincts pushed her to overdose on Lévit right after she birthed the baby girl. The baby uttered her first cry in the sterilized premises of the Company. Her male progenitor, a caged migrant from faraway lands who carried the albinism gene, didn’t survive an umpteenth genetic experiment. The little one latched onto this lost island as if she knew herself to be destined for a better life.
Ken Bugul wears her albinism like a brand—the habitable zone’s residents attribute it to the emissions from precious metal mines. However, when they see beings like Ken Bugul on-screen, frolicking in the pure waters of KAMA, it confirms their suspicions that they won’t have a place on the new continent. They can’t comprehend that she is the perfect specimen, the source of the nonrace of renewal.
The Company of the Lebu, an African people of the sea, arrived one night, accompanied by a strange watery sound. At dawn, their huge canoe-shaped structures were there, besieging the Port of Montreal. These autonomous machines, powered by the Lebu’s spirit ally since time immemorial, vomited their material and their voyagers onto the quays. The Lebu signed a pact that will outlast humanity.
The Company assiduously destroys what land remains here and sends the fruits of that destruction over there, to KAMA, to refine its technologies. KAMA must remain virgin in order to accommodate humanity’s renewal.
The Frédéric-Back area was developed by the Company when the animals started to die and rot. The impressive concept was laid out by the Company, which, it was believed, had arrived to save the last residents from the toxins and themselves. The area was to be a park, an immense walkable terrain, with family activities; it would also be a zoo designed to house the last cats, dogs, guinea pigs, cattle, barnyard and stable animals, squirrels, rats, and mice. Everything that, at the time, was still immune to the toxic vapors. Vehicles roamed the habitable zones, which were already limited, to round up the animals; the brain-softened residents parted with their household pets, smiling vacantly.
The Lebu of the Company had become experienced in the course of their harbor expeditions: Nantes, Amsterdam, Liverpool, Cádiz, Lisbon. They knew the park-zoo would be the ideal spot to practice their biological experiments. As on other continents, the animals in the park-zoo died off one by one, leaving their places to the migrants, who already outnumbered the local population.
Faithful to the water, the Lebu Company established itself in the Port of Montreal. The habitable terrain accommodated their laboratories. Their facilities expanded. Now, from time to time, the wind catches the toxic residues from the precious metal mining, its wild dance mixing with the migrants’ animal cries and the stench of the city. The residents of the habitable zone rely on the frivolous on-screen entertainment and the Lévit to better numb their brains or imagine the next chapter of their story, in which they intuit their own end. The messages on the screens—KAMA, a new world—don’t seem intended for them, because the only people who appear in them are albino people like Ken Bugul. The new nonrace venture announced by the screens will happen without them on that fantastical African continent. Nevertheless, they cling to the idea of it.
The migrants don’t observe the Company-imposed silence. They suffer substantial mutations caused by experiments designed to develop the perfect nonrace. Sickle-cell anemia, above all, is being studied in depth. Deformed creatures are born from cross-breeding migrants who carry the gene and are racked by fits of pain. The Company is also trying to figure out how to protect the nonrace it’s creating from these genetic diseases. The migrants have no use for the Company’s promises; they low like beasts to the rhythm of the poisoned winds and their own sufferings.
This is the cage. The Lévit no longer seems to be working, judging from the terrible rotting odor that chokes Ken Bugul. An odor she couldn’t smell before.
The cage once sheltered a gorilla that refused to die, despite the wounds that covered its body and tongue. Later on, the little green-eyed girl’s parents were thrown in there. Nobody knew their country of origin. The child was most likely born here, beside the wriggling worms that were still chewing on the mammal’s skeleton—before the tests began.
Ken Bugul averts her eyes with a hiccup of disgust. Death makes them aggressive. They’re in there, clinging to the grating; she can’t open the gate to slide the bucket of water and the vegetables inside like she normally does. Even so, she has to feed them because, in two days, there will be other tests, and the protocol must be followed: the creatures have to be strong enough to withstand everything. The Lévit is nothing but a memory; Ken Bugul thinks she can hear voices begging her to help them. Quickly, she throws the contaminated water through the bars. Orifices open, rotten-toothed and gaping, to catch a few drops. Fistful by fistful, she sets about feeding the famished horde until the bucket is nearly empty. There’s nothing left in the bottom except a nauseating yellowish slop. Ken Bugul grabs the receptacle with two hands and throws the liquid to the clumped mass of entities in the cage.
The albino woman has finished her work. Still in her robot suit, she wipes, perplexed, at something that’s pearling on her cheeks—caused by a feeling that shouldn’t exist in her. There is a stirring within, as if, finally, her brain were trying to emerge from the thick fog it’s been bathing in for more than a decade.
The migrants are the only ones who still produce children, in these cages, right in the heart of the precious metal mining sites. It’s a great bargain for the Company’s scientists, who can study their fertility while the Montrealers die off, sterile, dazed, aware of their imminent demise. Reduced to watching the screens on which the continent they thought would be their renewal takes shape. In the habitable zone, around the Port of Montreal, the Company has established very strict rules. Those who obey them get to continue their doses of Lévit in order to bear what’s left to be borne. Those who are less obedient still have the right to the screens, kept alight twenty-four hours a day to feed them with frivolities. On those screens, they see the albino people, who seem happy on the plot of land that is KAMA. Often, the vague outline of a continent appears, familiar to the oldest among them: Africa. The rest can always turn to suicide.
When she decides to reduce her dose of Lévit or turn off her screens, Ken Bugul sometimes remembers the demise of Montreal’s children. After the animals, they started dying in pitiable circumstances, letting out dreadful cries, disturbing the gelatinous calm of the adults’ brains. The Company used Lévit to quell any survival instinct among the populations of the habitable zones. Piles of corpses accumulated silently in the parks and schools. Sometimes, though rarely, an adult less passive than the rest would emit noises that sounded like weeping.
Now that there are no more children, those who had been parents are left to roam, absent, drugged, occupied by the same tasks, in the park-zoo, in the churches and laboratories, or at the mining sites.
3 doses of Lévit
The sun is setting. The robot she’s perched in is flexible, sturdy, and easy to direct. If they decide to attack her, as has often happened before, all she needs to do is spray them with toxic fumes bottled from the precious metal mining sites. Ken Bugul ends her work shift in one of the habitable zone’s five museums. The artifacts and paintings that were once there have been thoroughly destroyed; nothing’s left but the vast galleries, full of the bedridden, the insane, and the old and scrawny. The enormous buildings are worn by time. So too are the people they shelter. The cancers they’ve been inoculated with mix with the tropical viruses for which vaccines are still being developed, with varying degrees of success.
The vaccines are attempts to stop the effects of pathogens, and to extract the essential characteristics of mental illness; it is imperative that the new race, the nonrace, be forged from all possibilities and forearmed against everything, on KAMA.
According to the Company’s orders, Ken Bugul must make an inventory of the newly dead, and quickly. Today’s five corpses are lashed by blows, peppered with bite marks. As she’s trying to assemble them in a corner, cries erupt from what must have been, long ago, a reproduction of a Haudenosaunee longhouse. The demented being that barges out smashes its skull against Ken Bugul’s work suit. She activates the toxic gas propulsion system, then turns around, screaming through the dripping slurry, and runs headlong for the church.
In the church courtyard, the smell of rot rises in the polluted air to mingle with the clamor of the caged migrants and the wild, disorienting wind. This is where the Company’s sterile workers unload the old and the sick once their stint as guinea pigs is over. When they do manage to survive the cold that emanates from the unheated paving stones, they clash with each other or let themselves die. Here, Ken Bugul doesn’t feed anyone and has to settle for taking an inventory of the dead.
One thing isn’t missing from the Port of Montreal’s habitable zone: the churches. The Lebu, animists themselves, have requisitioned them. For a long time now, the stained-glass windows have lost their sparkle, reduced to blandly colored shards, icy eyes that unblinkingly witness the degradation of humanity. The font, torn from its plinth, overflows with green scum. The massive paintings were vandalized right at the start. They lie there now, vestiges of a forgotten and reviled era when the idea of legacy still meant something in this part of Turtle Island.
Ken Bugul watches the sick drag themselves around like abandoned trash as they try to latch on to the robot’s extremities. This time, she has let an emaciated old man hang on to her, even though she knows he won’t survive either the toxic fumes from the precious metals or the guard dogs the Company dispatches to wipe the city clean of its plague, let alone the numerous experiments that his ancient body has already been through.
0 doses of Lévit
Her instinct tells her that her path is predetermined. All those who want to leave the herd state, who want to end their imbecilic servitude, go that route. She is sitting on the unmade bed. Her colorful wrapper clashes with her toneless skin. Her gaze moves around the large, dark room. Incense spreads through the space like an insidious ghost. Its fog gives her the feeling of being elsewhere.
Ken Bugul is frozen. And yet, there is no reason to tremble in this overheated, smoky room. This is the first time in years that she’s spent more than twenty-four hours without Lévit.
After her last round at the church, she started getting terrible migraines. The shakes set in—at first sporadic and then more regular. These were followed by vomiting. She started to have visions, convinced that the little girl from the cage and the old man from the church were coming to get her.
Next came the terrible drive to end her own life, to no longer smell the stench of the fumes from the mining sites. She felt a burning desire to gouge out her eyes, to no longer see the grimness, the ditches, the landscapes devoid of greenery. She yearned to pierce through her eardrums, to block out the echoes of suffering in the air each time the machines shut down. Everything remains blurry, but it’s much clearer than when she shoots up with Lévit.
A plume of incense, headier than the rest, swirls around her, leaving a ghostly shape in its wake that the young woman thinks she recognizes, with a jolt of surprise. She calms herself: it’s still too early. She rises and tries taking a few steps. She feels warmed by the incense. The half-dark reassures her, as if the night’s promise were stronger than the day’s, which has finally waned.
She paces the bedroom. The mirror reflects the image of a white form sprinkled with freckles. Above, her red hair clashes with the pallid room. With her translucent fingers, she traces the outline of her body, imagining the intensity of an encounter with the other.
She knows that she’s awaiting the key. But she also feels a tension in her body, which is new. Because she’s never in her life anticipated anything so powerful. It’s painful and frightening.
Ken Bugul scolds herself inwardly—she shouldn’t be scared. Now, she’s seated here in this smoke-filled room: she awaits a being greater than herself. An entity whose continued existence is driven by the Lebu Company treaty.
It’s approaching. She whom no one wants confusedly feels a force overtaking her spirit.
Ken Bugul knows to stretch out, close her eyes, and wait. That’s what she does. She smiles. As she’s wondering if it’s on its way, she feels a warm current of air above her body, along her sides, and finally upon her. As if to commune with this historic moment, the plumes of incense begin a magnificent dance, surrounding the lovers.
It takes its time. It prowls around her body. An invisible force weighs on Ken Bugul’s eyelids, which she can’t open. It begins its work. It’s a powerful entity, but it needs humanity in order to be reborn. At last, inside her, it can find the hope of resurgence. It has found a receptacle and can await its time.
Manitou’s caress is gentle and deep. In her and her alone will it find a new beginning for its story.
Excerpts from the report by Comrade Diop on Ken Bugul, 11th genetic trial
Company Headquarters, Port of Montreal
Territory: Turtle Island, Montreal (what’s left of Quebec)
Phase 0: Selection of cosmological entity
Cosmological entity contacted: Great Spirit of the Beothuk (Manitou)
Relevant commentary on the cosmological entity: It must be noted that the negotiations were particularly arduous. Our offer to reanimate the entity on KAMA barely mitigates its anger at being deported.
Phase 1: Selection of subject
Father: Migrant (of Caucasian origin?) suffering from serious mental illness. Many genetic experiments attempted.
Mother: Carrier of the sickle-cell anemia gene. Experiment undertaken to detect genetic mutation. Suicide by overdose after giving birth. Impact on the child?
Given name: Ken Bugul (to trick the evil spell)
Characteristics: Subject very alert. The young woman does not carry the sickle-cell anemia gene and does not seem to suffer from any mental illness. Has resisted the screens. Did not succumb to the first injections of Lévit. Subject FERTILE.
Other characteristics: Albinism. Red hair. Warning: Very sensitive to the sun. To keep in mind on KAMA.
Capacity for work: Excellent. Very strong sense of duty.
Capacity for obedience: Medium. Reduced her doses of Lévit multiple times. Order was given not to intervene.
Capacity for empathy: Without the prescribed doses of Lévit: good.
Phase 2: Fertilization and follow-up
Implantation: Final selection for Ken Bugul’s implantation
State of subject: Complete detoxification. Awareness and acceptance of the situation.
Note: 24 hours until departure. The cages and churches will be unlocked. It will take three to four hours for the habitable zone to be fully overtaken by the migrants and test subjects.
Estimated date of human population’s total eradication on Turtle Island: week 50 of the year 2220
Soon, Montreal will be nothing more than the name of a city on a map, sounded out painstakingly by children somewhere on another continent—if the Company chooses to impart this slice of history to its herd. Soon, over there, on the so-called virgin lands, the cradle of the human race, History will take its revenge.
There, on the West African headland, on that piece of earth once called the Cape Verdean peninsula, the Lebu have survived. While all of Africa was burning and offering itself up to feed the voracious appetites of other continents and their multinationals, the Lebu territory survived. And so, as demiurges of the last world, as those who hold humanity’s future in their hands alone, they signed an unparalleled treaty: one that keeps them tied to the Earth and the spirits who inhabit it.
Behold, the albino Lebu, those hunted for generations, those considered to be demons in some eras and demigods in others—but always universally hated. It is they who, at the dawn of modern civilization’s end, succeeded in saving their peninsula. On KAMA’s corniche, the first treaty with the cosmological spirit of the Lebu sealed their terrible vengeance.
They proposed the same treaty to other spirits elsewhere in the world: “As the plague of humanity comes to an end, we pledge to find you new receptacles. We will let you sow your seeds in them. We promise you a new life on KAMA.”
As Ken Bugul, she whom no one wanted, undergoes implantation by a dying divinity in search of resurgence, each member of the Company gets to work. In a few minutes, Ken Bugul will be hoisted, unconscious, into the cockpit of the canoe-like vessel that will carry them: her, holding the seeds of revival and continuation, and them, creators of the nonrace, toward KAMA, the mother continent. There, in Dakar, Ken Bugul will join the long lineage of women-carriers for the new half-human half-spirit race. As for Manitou, surrounded by its cosmological peers, it will discover this new land that’s been saved from the frenzy of destruction.
Next destination: Salvador de Bahia, Brazil
Cosmological entity contacted: Oxalá
Establishment of protocol: Churches and zoos already requisitioned. Myriad migrants, local population in weakened state. Precious metal mining sites already operational.
“Résurgence” copyright © by Ayavi Lake. Translation © 2024 by H Felix Chau Bradley. All rights reserved. French-language text first published in Mathieu Villeneuve, ed., Futurs (Montréal: Éditions Triptyque, 2020, in the Satellite coll.).