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The sea was charged with cadavers, and this morning, it was spitting on to their faces. It splashed its yellowed foam each time a corpse, swelled by the salt and sun, hit the tank aboard which the young Joge-O and the Doctor Ignace had been surviving since the storm. The craft was zooming straight, pushed by the winds without too much hesitation, taking the two survivors toward freedom, toward Lanvil. Leaning overboard, Joge-O was vomiting out his guts.

“We’re approaching,” Doctor Ignace let it be known at the umpteenth soft noise of a torso getting bent out of shape against the open tank. “Lanvil is approaching.”

For several days, they had been encountering nauseating ones, lifeless ones, the ones concealed by the swell, but, since dawn, the whole horizon seemed to have fainted and vomited the surplus of Hades. The ocean, like a cancerous lung, could no longer breathe.

More and more, the Doctor stared into the distance with eagerness and longing. He often talked in hushed tones when the suffocating days softened and before the sun set. He was praying in silence for Lanvil to appear, finally, and to reveal itself, wave after wave.

In Joge-O’s eyes, the Doctor kept this blind optimism. He wasn’t really looking for the spectral point of the island in the distance, but he scrutinized the veil and the shade it gave to their bruised bodies, as if he was the guarantor of their precarious solidity.

But nothing pierced the false flat of the sea, not in front, not around, not beyond. The open sea seemed empty since forever, even if the holomaps and nanocompasses indicated the presence of the continent over there, behind the last waves. They say, yékrik, that the Gates of Lanvil are fangs raised against the rest of the world. They say, yékrak, that the entire world could smash into them—it wouldn’t enter Lanvil if it is not deemed worthy, if it can’t be humble. They say, yé mistikrik, that they are numerous, those unworthy and arrogant, those rejected by Lanvil, and Joge-O thought until that day that it was just a legend. Yé mistikrak.

Retching once more, he wiped the white bile that was flowing from his nose with a trembling hand. His knees slid on the snaking blood at the bottom of the craft.

“We will not enter,” he said.

“Only if you capsize the boat.”

The tank heeled dangerously toward the cadavers floating all around them. The dead prattled with a noisy slapping. They prattled so much that they made Joge-O’s head spin, Joge-O sick, Joge-O pitching, Joge-O drifting, almost capsizing with his half-naked body, and his belly emptied of any pain.

A vise of nausea closed on him; it was not the sun that prevented him from breathing, not the acid ocean spray either, but the horrible and yet so familiar vision of these faces, pressing against each other and kissing in a slow and awkward dance. He was afraid of them. They twirled and howled under the waves the fate that Joge-O anticipated and that he could no longer silence.

“We will not make it,” Joge-O repeated.

He was terrified by their jolts, by their starts, but somewhere near his heart, his fear came mostly from his pain. A pain someone had put there, between his fifth rib and his left lung. A pain that linked him to these cadavers, an antique pain, shared, multiplied by the number of driftcorpses. A burn inside as wide as the horizon, even the words of Doctor Ignace could not have appeased.

“They say that there’s a guardian in front of Lanvil,” the latter whispered. “He decides who comes in and who stays at sea. We have to look for him.”

“He will not let you enter.”

Doctor Ignace grimaced; the old tarpaulin had been violently unclipped. It flapped in the wind like a ripped sail and made the tank jump forward. The glass cylinder that served as their raft squashed a body in the trough of the wave. The tank was empty, empty of umbilical canals, oxygen masks, empty of its genonutrivive grafts, empty of its security straps, of its power cables, of its losses and escapes toward death, empty of its first occupants. The crate could contain up to five bodies. There were now only two to hang onto the swells like hope to life.

The Doctor thought about Lanvil, only her, the island stuck in his mind like a skinless wound, a scar he kept wide open since the other world’s shore appeared to him in a dream. He did not think about what she had cost him, what he had to pay to get close to her, about everything he had lost, in truth: his technicians and crew, the crew at the helm of the ship that sheltered the laboratory, the laboratory that collected the data, the data that would repopulate humanity.

On the other side of the globe, at the start of the ocean, they had left a desert of bombs, the dusts of cities and abandoned roads. There was no more humanity, only frightened animals shutting themselves away inside overcrowded bunkers. All that could come out was immaterial information secured in mechanical envelopes. In the silence of the ultramarine nights, Doctor Ignace cried for the end of the Occident, demolished by an ugly withdrawal. To the questions of why and how, he persuaded himself that the answers and salvation would come from the antipode. He needed Lanvil. He needed what was still slipping from his grasp.

Doctor Ignace had kept the neat barbary of his imperialistic ideas, the obsession for spreading objective, experienced, controlled, theorized values, human values that would befit the entire world. Humanity, he was thinking, would perish in the cold, pox, and torpor, or it would conquer, it would smash the Gates of Lanvil, enriched with roads outlined by the modern explorers. For he was one, an explorer, even in the state to which he was reduced.

He could see in Lanvil the end of the road, the last free space, the virgin continuity untouched by all impurity, far from all decline, where it would be possible to rebuild mankind and start from the beginning, fix their mistakes, build a new world.

“I will talk to him, to this guardian, about life, and about the happiness of the days that go by, about how slow the dew evaporates in the early morning between the blades of green grass in the Alpilles. I will tell him that this world is beautiful and that the joy of life in these latitudes will touch him as much as it moved me, if he ever opens his doors to us.”

But Joge-O did not listen to him. He looked with a strange feeling—a nostalgia or a melancholy he was feeling for the first time—at the poisoned wave that crashed and hit the edge of the tank. He would have wanted to give a hand to the dead underwater, to pick them, catch them one by one, save them from this saline whirlwind.

But the Doctor had forbidden him in the beginning, when he had taken his place in the tank already full of bodies: “Don’t touch what is outside: You have to remain pure.”

Joge-O didn’t understand the meaning of this sentence anymore.

“Do you know that they look like me?”

“Who?”

Joge-O became attached to the faces, flattened by the cover of the ocean, whose hair uncurled slowly in the stickiness of decomposed flesh and whose flared noses had been eaten by surface fish, the ears as well. As for the lips, they had melted.

“They all look like me.”

The Doctor said, “You’re not feeling better, are you?”

Despite his ruin, the Doctor had worried about his older son, as he liked to call Joge-O, before. He still had this kindly gaze at times that would fade away sometimes, caught up with reality. But he loved him, his progeny, with a true paternal and condescending love. He called him his son to give him the character of an individual, and he had made him the promise, when they arrived in Lanvil, to free him from all iron, all ties. He first had to complete his education; he wanted to take him into his arms, but the situation was out of his control.

“You are unique, Joge-O.”

“It’s a lie,” he retorted.

Joge-O stared with his black eyes, a black so powerful that Doctor Ignace looked away, embarrassed by the artificial candor reflected on their surface. The scientist’s voice was tinged with an uncomfortable fear that he kept hidden at the bottom of his dark and fragile throat.

“I mean: I made you unique. In Lanvil, thousands of them will narrate your story, our arrival. Some will shout, ‘Yékrik!’ Others will answer, ‘Yékrak!’ This is how legends are passed there, on the other side. At night, by the gigantic fires, the one who narrates wakes the courtyard with a big shout, ‘Yé mistikrik!’ And if the courtyard is not asleep, it replies, ‘Yé mistikrak!’ You will see. I will teach you, as always. I’m here for that.”

“You didn’t teach me anything!”

Joge-O threw himself at the Doctor. With all his strength, he quartered the straps that were binding the scientist. They had been snipping his body for several nights. Under the violence of the gesture, they stripped the flesh off his torso and mishandled the skiff even more.

Joge-O reattached the sail. He wedged it into the cables that were trussing the Doctor. He clenched his fist with rage, a murderous rage that would have killed Doctor Ignace way before necessary. For several seconds, he loathed his creator, self-proclaimed father, and master of the ship. He detested him for his knowledge, because he held intangible reins, because he kept taking them for granted, like an instrument of control over Joge-O’s body. The son would have wanted to kill his puppeteer, but the latter was the only one who could take him away from the disgust of the swell, away from the casket that was used as a raft. Under the pressure of the east wind against the makeshift sail, the tank cleft the syrupy foam and got back on course. Doctor Ignace was suffocating.

“I gave you all the keys.”

“No, you haven’t,” Joge-O retorted. “My brothers are the ones who taught me how to see, how to listen, how to feel …”

“And who taught them all this?”

Joge-O regarded with disgust the ripped leg of Doctor Ignace, then the blade he had used to cut it. He had thrown them at the bottom of the tank, his body shaken by the first signs of retching. The stump, as well as the cutting edge, was still seeping serosanguineous nanobugs, overflowing and collapsing on each other as they reproduced. They invaded the rim of Joge-O and the Doctor’s living space and smeared each inanimate nook of the craft with a false existence.

The nanobugs ran along the glass frame; they were hungry, as well, for spots that were immaculate of their smear. They proliferated in an intelligent way, building bridges and ephemeral architectures. They gathered into a swarming yet orderly magma, until, from a too-large concentration, they shone a bright and iridescent sparkle, which always extended more, like a connected oil, filled with information, character, and values.

The tank filled with this blood of unusual color while Joge-O pressed down on the Doctor’s body with his own weight. He kept his vengeful and choleric eye locked on his creator who, full of incomprehension, was crucified to the prow, strapped by the feeding cables of the old crate. The Doctor struggled to maintain the sail toward west, straight toward the connectors his geosensorial chips traced like a magnet, straight toward Lanvil and deliverance.

Doctor Ignace’s eyes rolled backward in pain, but he didn’t scream. He moaned a long and muffled wail that the cadavers took over in chorus, growling under the waves. The wind grew stronger, stealing his breath, and Joge-O, whose emotions no longer penetrated him, reanimated him only after snatching his right hand.

The Doctor cried, “You will eat me whole …”

“I know.”

“I gave you all, Joge-O. Life, the awareness of being here, a vision of the future, the value of experience. Every morsel of you was shaped, compacted, connected in the matrix of this crate, thanks to me, my ideas, my research, my projects. And you eat me? You eat the hand that fed you so many days?”

“I didn’t want to eat the others.”

Joge-O bit into the flesh. He pulled the nails with his teeth, unhooked the cartilage, spreading under his tongue and behind his gums, up to the edge of his glottis, the perverted heat that was running inside the Doctor’s limb.

There were tactile memories, particular touches, gestures, and manners. There were directions, shakes, there were odors and shapes, memories of environments, objects in negatives. The hand and its connectors were tainted with Doctor Ignace’s past, the whole story of an active life, and Joge-O was overloaded as much as he was repulsed.

He had risen against the hand that fed him, not to destroy it but to feed from it even more, to swallow its muscle, decrypt its nerves. He didn’t like this taste. He didn’t like the one of his brothers. He didn’t like to see himself in the cynical gaze of the Doctor who, stupefied, oscillated between incomprehension, scoff, and insults.

His son was a savage, a cannibal, even though he was learning about the world. Even though he was learning fast, Joge-O. Even though he allowed him to enter Lanvil, the new child, the child entirely created to the image of the new world. His son was a traitor, a Judas, a Brutus, who was devouring him without shame, who was pumping his humanity to use it against him.

Joge-O spat out a metacarpus with disdain. The bone tinkled against the glass of the tank.

“You forced me. You forced me to eat Joge-I and Joge-β. Then Joge-Δ and Joge-θ.”

“I did it so we both could pass the Gates. You are a gift, Joge-O. A gift that I’m giving to the world so that they will reconcile. You are the open sesame of the future of humanity at peace.”

“I’m not unique. Look at this one, floating between two waters with gnawed teeth and an empty nose. He has a similar face to me. Do you know what he tells me? Do you know what they all shout?”

With anger, Joge-O tore the cheek to pieces. He ripped off the flesh and ate it up with, in point of fact, slow and insensitive swallows.

The ocean swelled and split in two, like the large maw of a sea monster with rotten tooth crowns. The dead flew away, carried by the roaring of the swell, and fell back nearby into the showers of foam. Dozens of emaciated hands clutched the cloning tank. Several cadavers climbed up its walls, slumped between Joge-O and the Doctor, and harangued them with aggressivity, tongues hanging through hollow cheeks, arms swinging left and right in a lurch of rinsed and blanched muscles.

And yet, they were talking only to Joge-O, who threw himself down in the hold. They were screaming only for him, while the Doctor was dying, petrified with pain at every jolt of the crate, stranger to the illusion that was swaying Joge-O. They were leaning over him, like a thousand faces of death, with scrawny fingers curved like scythes, with jaws wide open and dribbling, with empty and accusatory orbits for eyes.

The cadavers howled, castigated, giggled, and cracked with questions: “Are you pure, Joge-O? Are you humble? Do you belong with us? Where do you come from? Where the hell do you come from, Joge-O? What family, what side? What blood floods your veins?”

They collapsed onto each other, then broke like waves, crawling against the body of Joge-O, who fled like a beast trapped in its lair.

“Your nose is not straight or flat. Your skin is not firm or calloused. Your hair is a chaos, a volcano. Anger lies inside you, squeezed into a gaping hole of ignorance.”

Their voices redoubled with animosity. They mooed with judgement and harshness, with backbiting and vomit, bitter and haggard. Joge-O burst into terror-illuminated tears.

One of them, colder than the others, clung to his neck, kissing his ear, flooding his thin clothes with sea foam. It was a woman, but her face was identical to Joge-O’s. This vision froze him. An instant between their eyes vitrified by the sun, between their lips dried by salt, between their fingers stretched by emotion, danced the same hope, the same passion, the same yearning: to recognize themselves at last and love themselves once more, for their traits, their colors, and their gestures the ocean hid from the rest of the world.

“Your blood is humble,” she whispered. “I can see its nuance, the one you hide deep inside you. Everything you emanate is way more painful than what we carry. You, the living being, you are without a land, without an anchor, without any hindrances. You are worthy of yourself; you are not like us. When you arrive, you will choose …”

She looked sad—without a doubt, she really was—especially in the hollow of her cheeks, under her eyelids, behind her jaw where the melancholy makes wrinkles and ideals sink. That froze him with fear. Joge-O briskly pushed her. She fell back into the water like a siren made of ebony or driftwood, someone forgotten from the beaches and mangroves that Joge-O did not know yet. With her slid the other corpses. They tumbled like flowers into the swirls, calming the waves and the passions, starting again their slow dance under water.

For hours, the dead kept singing. Joge-O listened to their litany, swallowed their fever, then ignored them. He returned to Doctor Ignace. He savaged his body with bites, his limbs with big stabs, against counterblows of bursts of information, arrhythmic tutorials, neuralgic breaks that petrified him each time his synapsis reached a saturation point.

Yet he persisted and recalled the dead woman who almost took him overboard. He remembered the anguish that seized him when he plunged his eyes into her gaze empty of tears, the agony of being forever rejected. He did not want that.

He had to fill his neurons empty of any emotions, connect his axons blind of any sensations, swallow the old world, kill the father and build himself. Joge-O had to have all the tenacity of his mind, the endurance and obstinacy, to bite into his creator’s interdictions, to remove them one by one and rebuild them, while the Doctor kept on dying. He had to defeat and overcome the securities of his own constitution to see, at last, on Doctor Ignace’s face the ounce of acknowledgement that he no longer estimated.

Joge-O leaned over him. The sun was low. The sky reddened with appeasement.

“I know the nauseous colors of the clouds of dust that you drained behind you. There’s nothing in your heart. There’s nothing other than an immense sorrow of not being enough, and the ugly ignorance of another’s true worth. I’m not here for you. I’m not your open sesame. I exist only for myself; I exist only for me.”

The Doctor’s lips shivered, white with exhaustion. He struggled to live one more day. He thought he saw a bird fly above the waters, but the picture shied away in the corner of his vision.

“Is it him?” he asked. “Is it the guardian?”

The clone didn’t reply. He washed his face in the blood that was running like wavelets at the bottom of the tank. He looked at the clouds coming closer from afar and thought about his brothers. Regret for feeding off them faded. Doctor Ignace found him handsome, all at once, upright and proud—whole. He smiled.

“You exist, Joge-O.”

“I want to be more than that. When I look at you, I realize that we can’t complete each other. I want to dream my own ideals and build my own reality. I’ve already seen a thousand stars since my birthdate. And I will certainly see a thousand more wonders. But you will not teach me anything more, for I will live in your place.”

Yékrik. Doctor Ignace died in the cold waves of the ocean, without seeing Lanvil or his guardian, emptied of his cyborganism, rejected by life.

Yékrak!

They say that the Gates of Lanvil are fangs raised against the rest of the world, four towers spiking out of the ocean floor. They say that they are hit by the rising sun, dug by the acid foam’s assault, adorned with the mist of the desert that they know is beyond the swell. They say that all the elements could break against them in the hopes of turning them to dust, and they wouldn’t succeed. Is the courtyard asleep?

No, the courtyard is not asleep!

They say that beyond the Gates of Lanvil stretches the country of our desires in the colors of what we keep secret, inside of us. They say that the one who passes the Gates reaches felicity, freedom, eternal happiness.

What they never say, and Joge-O knew it once he saw the Gates, is that their territory has no guardian, for we are our own guardians. The dead had told him. They say that Joge-O arrived on a night like this one, in a glass shell carried by four deceased brothers, floating on the groundswells of the Atlantic. They say that he entered Lanvil. Yé mistikrik!

Yé mistikrak!



Michael Roch is a science-fiction writer and screenwriter, born in 1987 in Lyon. His new novel, Les Choses immobiles, incandescence of a maroon literature, is published by Label Mu (2023). Since 2015, he has led several writing workshops on the theme of Afrofuturism—a literary movement developing Afrocentric counter-dystopias—in prisons and universities. He lives in Martinique.
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