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This story contains guns, police brutality, fungal imagery, underground spaces.
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About the Author: Claudie Arseneault is an asexual author from Quebec City, a biochemistry nerd, lover of squids and balloons, and relentless gamer. Her first novel, Viral Airwaves, was published in February 2015. Since then, Claudie has edited Wings of Renewal, a solarpunk dragon anthology, and published several short stories. You can find out more on her website, claudiearseneault.com.
Le carré rouge
by Claudie Arseneault
The First Seed
May 22, 2012. Quartier des spectacles, Montréal. A hundred days of strike.
A thick crowd packed the Place des arts, milling about, waiting for the manif to start. Not an inch of free space on the stairs in front of the slick architectural buildings, the long grass lane on its side, or the streets around. How many of us had gathered today? A hundred thousand? Media would say ten thousand tomorrow, but I knew better. We spread in every direction, tentacles of protesters reaching out to the city, growing bigger and longer as we neared the official departure time.
I moved through it, restless, anxious to head off. Three months of protest and picketing had thinned my patience for the pre-walk wait. How many hours of megaphone speeches did I need to endure before I could take off? No one listened to the mangled words anyway. Friends and families joked with one another, scanning the crowd and pointing at the most creative signs. Great puns and impressive art always garnered attention. Everywhere I looked, carrés rouges had been pinned to hats, drawn on boards, painted on faces. Many added red scarfs, red boots, or red anything to their attire.
Huge manifs like these differed from my nightly walks in Quebec City. Every day, we gathered before the Parlement, a few hundred courageous souls who knew the police would only tolerate them for a short while. Our tiny echo to Montréal’s systematic march through the centre-ville, with a core of grim protesters, always ready for violence and confrontations. Today’s festive ambiance felt like a vacation. No one expected a fight, not with families and thousands of people present. I allowed myself to relax and tried not to think of the policemen still lining the streets, glaring at us.
The convoy moved at last. My excitement kicked back in. Sure, this manif felt less like fighting than our nightly outings, but it mattered all the same. An enormous chunk of Québec had gathered—hundreds of buses and cars converging on Montréal for a single purpose: reject Charest’s unjust law. Under the guise of forcing students back into their classes come August, Bill 78 obligated any assembly of 50 or more to provide an itinerary, or face police action. In short, legal permission to trample all over our civil rights. And one had been given today, of course. Wouldn’t want to defy our good friend Bill 78, even if we’d all come here to shit on it. Kinda ironic, when you stopped to think about it, but family-friendly protests couldn’t afford to flip the bird at authorities before they’d even started.
I joined the advancing crowd, falling in steps behind the Pink Orchestra. You had to love these guys, their ugly and bare-threaded fuchsia outfits, and the joyful music they played relentlessly. People clapped and laughed. I watched movements ahead. Despite the carnavalesque scene, tension laced the protest. Too many arrests had marked the last weeks, too many confrontations. Everyone remembered May 4th in Victo, how the SQ shot a plastic bullet at Maxence’s face, how him and another had barely escaped with their lives. Hard to forget how little they cared, even amidst songs and slogans.
An anxious whisper ran down the crowd, and my heart leaped into my throat. Something was happening ahead, rippling down to us. Slivers of rumours reached my ears. What was that? People were turning left? I broke from the thick of the crowd, springing on a lamppost to get a better view. Our itinerary said to go down the street, then right. Anyone deviating from the given plan would be flagged as a problem maker, one now officially taking part in an illegal gathering. Brutal arrests usually ensued, and everyone could kiss ‘family-friendly’ goodbye.
And yet, my eyes didn’t lie. CLASSE volunteers blocked the way right, encouraging others to go left. Every new protester following their instructions lifted my heart. The correct itinerary had been on all news channels and broadcast for the last two days, and I’d heard it discussed among protesters all morning. Everyone knew. To comply with Bill 78, we should turn right. Yet everyone chose left. They created a massive tide of carrés rouges, arms linked as they defied an unjust law with a grin.
Pride swirled in my chest. What a weird feeling. These days, I spent more time despairing at people’s shitty opinions than cheering them on. I loved Québec. I loved the Frenchness, the welcoming strangers, the tight communities. But damn did the ignorant bile filling media and comment sections put a downer on that love. We had fought for a hundred days to be heard. Marched down the streets, screaming slogans until our throat became raw, brandishing signs despite tired arms. We’d played cat and mouse with police squads in Saint-Jean-Baptiste, formed unbreakable lines before classes, stood up to vehement and egoist peers, been mocked on radio poubelles and even in public media. How often had it seemed like the whole damn world didn’t care?
Not today. As I watched the slow procession turn left, deliberately sticking it up to Charest and his Liberals, I rediscovered my allies. Those here, with us, and those at home—the ones who couldn’t stand crowds, who couldn’t do long walks, yet fought every day by our side. We were not alone. We were everywhere. In Montréal’s streets against tuition hikes, yes, but all across Québec too. Against the scavenging of the Great North, against austerity cuts and oil exploitation on Anticosti—against all manners of life-sucking neoliberal politics. We were all in it together.
I learned later that 300,000 people had come, and most had chosen to turn left, to take part in an illegal manif. A masterful rebuttal of civil disobedience. My first, and certainly not my last.
September 19, 2028. Anar-café, Ville de Québec. Thousands of refugees are pouring in Canada.
Purl, purl, yarn over.
My needles moved at blurring speed. How many tuques had I knit this week? Five? Every day after my job, I drop by the Anar-café, settled in a large sofa, and set to work. No time to rest. A cold wind already blew through our street, announcing a long winter, and refugees would pour in with little more than the clothes on their back.
Many called our idea silly. What’s the point of tuques and mitts when people emerged from war-scarred lands, clinging to their families, uncertain of the future? Will the wool feed them? House them? But I remembered my first winter, hands and ears frozen, my parents too poor to shield us properly from the blizzard. Québec had never felt so harsh and foreign. Small gestures could make a world of difference.
When we’d learned how many would arrive in November, providing winter attire had become a priority. I called Lamia, and we’d organized the campaign. Word had spread like wildfire on social media, and every day our dropping points filled with tuques, mitts, and warm socks. At this rate we’d overflow. Good. Homeless folk could use the help, too. Every year, the number of people who struggled to make ends meet grew. None of these would go to waste. So despite the overwhelming success our Tuques d’Accueil Campaign met, I kept knitting.
Besides, it helped me relax. Purl, purl, yarn over. The words looped in my head in a sing-song, almost a war chant. Sometimes fighting injustice had nothing to do with speaking up, marching out, collecting funds, organizing, or sticking together. Sometimes it meant knitting, cross-legged in an anarchist café, contributing in small ways. Purl, purl, yarn over.
The front door creaked as it opened, and my chest filled with warmth despite the cold wind allowed in. Dieudonné pulled down his coat’s hood, shaking out twists and making a beeline for my table. He half-collapsed into the seat next to me, spreading his legs with a sigh.
“Got any tricks to make snow fall already?” he asked. “This in-between sucks.”
“You keep saying I’m made of magic, but I’m no weather sprite. I fight injustice, not cold damp rain.”
“Well, I have a great new battle for you, my friend.” He leaned forward, and behind his joking tone I detected an alarming seriousness. I perked up, and my stomach twisted with worry. News these days was rarely good. No matter how we fought, the government slashed through public safety nets. “You might want to interrupt your handiwork.”
Oh. Others liked to tease me about how I’d knit through the toughest debates, piling hand-made carrés rouges in front of me before the end. If Dieudonné believed I should stop … “That bad?” I asked.
“Remember their election promise to feed everyone? They explained how. It’s even worse than we expected.” He dug into his small backpack, withdrew a tablet, and handed it to me. “The details are all on this, but the short version is simple: from now on, every citizen needs to be registered to receive their government-allotted food ration. A Canadian initiative, actually. Apparently the leaders of our good federation can agree on something. No one wants to sign a new constitution, but doubling down on surveillance and control is fine by them.”
Well, shit. Not that I expected our dear government to fulfill that particular promise in a fashion where ‘everyone’ truly would be, but I hated when even my worst speculation didn’t match reality. How did they define ‘citizens?’ What would happen to the refugees arriving just now? To those without a home address? Did their budget properly adjust for celiac or other disability-related diet requirements? For religious concerns? Would they shit all over trans and nonbinary folk by demanding dead names and refusing to provide a wide range of gender options? This registration reeked of fascism, and I wanted nothing to do with it.
“I feel sick.” My needles drooped, and I gritted my teeth. “Let me guess. They calculated how much the average abled white man needed to eat in a day, and they’ll distribute that exact thing to everyone? With bonus Pro-Seed-granted wheat and vegetables? Are they at least supporting local farmers with their shit?”
“Doubtful.” Dieudonné gestured at the tablet. “I’ll go pay for my time here at the counter. You read up, and we’ll discuss what we can do about it. Everyone’s throwing ideas about and debating, but we called an assembly in two days. Long enough for plans to be made.”
“We’ll have one.”
My insides boiled. Pro-Seed had grown over the last decade, its already long reach becoming heavier and more dangerous. They’d overtaken every aspect of the food industry, had powerful friends in most major governments, and would be more than happy to force everyone to buy their products. Pro-Seed: the way forward! The only way forward with them was through crass capitalism. I didn’t need to know the kind of backdoor dealings that had led to this; the end result sufficed. Everyone had to eat. Once you controlled the food, you controlled everyone.
I set aside my knitting and dug into the awful read, curling up on the seat. Dieudonné chatted with the café’s employees, waiting on me to discover the full extent of their horrible plan. As anticipated, their distribution didn’t account for diversity of needs and situations. Neither did their funding plans. A flat tax for everyone, with no provision for low income. And to top it off, any form of private or communal farming would require a government licence, be subject to tight rules, or find itself shut down.
Guerrilla gardening was about to become even more dangerous, and even more necessary. Large-scale plans bloomed in my head—entire networks of unsanctioned farms and food distribution. If they forced us to register, it would be used against us. We needed to dig in, go underground, and provide for everyone. Not unlike the hundred fungi species all living in the same roots. In short, we’d have to build one huge Québec-wide mycorrhizal network.
The Mycorrhiza’s Heart
July 6, 2031. Tunnel Dufferin, Ville de Québec. An expedition into the past.
Every city had its ruins—megaprojects of concrete envisioned and put into motion, only to be abandoned when more efficient, eco-friendly solutions were brought forward. Many had been reused and reimagined through the years, but Québec City’s had lied dormant for decades.
My steps echoed into the empty space as I moved through the tunnel, the beam of my torch barely piercing the dusty darkness. The ceiling arched six feet above my head, my only protection from the solid rock threatening to collapse. I tried to remind myself the tunnel had been built close to the surface, that construction had happened in a massive trench, but this felt like exploring old dwarven mines. Except … ugly ones, without cool runes or impressive architecture.
Amazing, how we’d believed it worthwhile to dig directly in Québec City’s cliff and force a highway to cut through, north to south, to connect with the boulevard Champlain. Three kilometres of road, part of which would involve dynamiting the inside, just to speed up cars. In the end, they’d only dug 92 metres before René Lévesque put an end to it. It had still left behind a massive space of concrete walls and pillars, spanning three levels but blocked away to prevent squatters from meeting an untimely death.
I turned to Dieudonné and Chantal, my two lifetime companions, both family now. “How’s this for our new house? Ready to move in?”
Dieudonné laughed, but Chantal ran a wistful hand over the concrete. “And leave Wendake? You know better.” Determination chased the sadness away from her dark eyes. “But we can use this place. It’s huge, and in great need of greenery.”
“Can we escape notice with something this big?” I asked. Revitalizing such a space would require moving large amounts of soil, machinery, and material for ventilation and power, and authorities remained on the lookout for signs of new farms.
“Leave it to me.” Chantal left the pillar, renewed energy infusing her steps. She’d voiced doubts at Dieudonné’s suggestion to inspect this place, but they were gone now. “You see empty darkness, concrete, and challenges. I see the end results: row upon row of vertical hydroponics, with large lamps hanging from the ceiling and shedding light on our gigantic farm, vines climbing near walls and pillars, hiding the ugliness our predecessors left behind, and flowers adding their colour and sweet scent to this dust.” She pointed around as she spoke, and the area came to life in my mind’s eye. “Our Mycorrhiza is struggling to feed the ever-growing demands of the community, but with a place like this? We’ll breathe new strength into the network, have more food to distribute. Give me a few years, and this abandoned ruin will become the heart of our operations.”
How I wished we’d have it now! The imagined base left me breathless, excited. The last three years building our network had been a slow grind, necessary but depressing work that chipped at my strength. Even Dieudonné’s bottomless energy had hit a wall a year ago. Food made itself scarce for the oppressed, our clandestine farms kept getting shut down, and fighting Pro-Seed’s sprawling hold and system seemed increasingly pointless. How could we ever retain our alimentary sovereignty? We’d clung to one another, struggling through burnout and anxiety, terrified to fail and let everyone down.
Meeting Chantal had been a breath of fresh air, a relief from the pressure. We’d first butted heads at an assembly, debating harshly, and she’d quickly grown into an essential part of Dieudonné’s and my life. Slipped right into our dynamic and bed as if she’d always belonged there. A new lover, with new tactics and a new voice. Without her, Dieudonné and I would still be struggling to keep ourselves afloat, instead of planning to stop the Mycorrhiza from sinking.
I squeezed my companions tighter. Looking back, I felt like all the activism, networking, and community building of the last decade had led to this. “In 10 years, this will be the biggest underground farm in the province, and we’ll feed everyone Pro-Seed can’t or won’t.”
We would need to. Things had changed so much since my first battle against tuition hikes. I’d gone from screaming in the streets against unjust law, awed at our collective decision to turn left, to running an entire network of illegal farms, hiding my name and life from an all-knowing system. Life had gotten worse, and I suspected it’d keep its downward spiral before we could upright it. I reached for the felt carré rouge still pinned on my hat, a silly symbol of my battles. The fight was far from over.
October 16, 2040. Mycorrhiza’s Heart, Ville de Québec. The War Measures Act returns to Québec.
I crushed Chantal’s hand with mine as we watched hordes of Canadian soldiers kick in doors on TV, dragging half-asleep inhabitants out of their home, snapping handcuffs around their wrists and shoving them into police vans. I quailed at the size of their guns and the impersonal violence of their intervention. In most cases they took complete strangers, but my stomach sunk as I spotted the occasional friend in handcuffs. The news reporter’s voice droned over the scene, their tone of insulting neutrality.
En vertu des pouvoirs qui lui sont conférés par la Loi sur les mesures de guerre, la Sureté du Québec a ordonné que soit conduite à la station la plus proche toute personne ayant en sa possession un symbole d’appartenance aux groupes révolutionnaires criminels sévissant à travers le Québec.
I stopped listening as they listed what these revolutionary symbols could be, knowing the list spanned minutes and included all manners of highly questionable objects. Anything to give them as large a handhold as possible. This shit came straight out of nightmarish documentaries on October 70. They hadn’t waited for a minister to get kidnapped this time, however. Our actions were far from leading to the death of a second Pierre Laporte. A week ago we’d simultaneously sabotaged one of Pro-Seed’s biggest farms and their data centre, wiping out a large amount of information from their system. Four days later, army vans rolled into Montréal and Québec, ‘to protect the institutions of law, order, and equality in Québec.’ I wondered why they’d waited two full days to declare martial law … until I saw the date.
Exactly 70 years had passed since the first use of the War Measures Act to suppress underground uprising in Québec. Two very different situations, but the same violent answer. Anger roiled in my stomach. I bet they thought themselves hilarious. What a nice wink to history, to brutalize civil rights twice on the exact same day! At least they’d given some of us time to hide. Many had flooded into the Heart over the last 24 hours, sensing the ill wind and knowing they’d need protection. Chantal had come bringing news of Wendake, which had a smaller hideout and allowed refugees in. She never had the chance to go back. The tanks had rolled out first.
“Nothing from Dieudonné?” I asked.
Chantal shook her head. “He shouldn’t have gone back out. They know him, will have targeted him. How could they forget the black lawyer who defended Rousseau after he shot a police? They’ve imprisoned all manners of famous artists and rich politicians. They’ll snag him too. His degree means shit to them.”
“Someone had to try. We can’t abandon everyone arrested.” Not that Dieudonné would be able to give legal counsel from behind bars. Any lawyer willing to defend those handcuffed tonight would be flagged as a threat.
“How do we fight this, Rasha?”
Chantal’s shaking voice drenched me in horror. The army’s sudden descent had felt like a surreal film until I heard her very solid fear. I turned to her, picked up her chin to shift her head my way, and leaned my forehead against hers. I had no idea. Despite three decades of near-constant activism, I’d never faced anything like this. Seventy years ago, people had fought to form an independent nation, their status as a province considered intrinsically linked to the oppressive reign of anglo interests and corporations.
Nous vaincrons, they had claimed, and they had been wrong.
Not only did they never separate from Canada, but the very corporations they’d meant to fight had dug their tentacles deep into Québec. ‘Anglo interests’ no longer existed. The rich and powerful bore the same French family names as everyone, and the dream of sovereignty that had pushed members of the FLQ to such violent tactics had lost its meaning. A nation wouldn’t save us from the savage capitalism destroying lives, not anymore. True sovereignty had changed meaning over the last 70 years. If we wanted independence, we would need sovereign food income, sovereign power sources, and sovereign institutions. Breaking down the current oligarchy required thriving without it first. So how did we fight this?
“We survive it,” I said. “We get through these darker times, this winter. We keep building—keep preparing for our chance to break the ice and bloom again. It’ll come. I have to believe that.”
Without hope, we would never make it through.
March 3, 2058. Mycorrhiza’s Heart, Ville de Québec. A long winter comes to an end.
Blizzard transformed a city, hid its ugliness under a flurry of white flakes. La poudreuse. Québec saw its fair share of storms, and heavy snow didn’t slow people. Too much work to do. Not a penny to spare to survive. I hated it, how we were forced to risk our lives for a few hours of work. Not today, though. Highways closed from null visibility, and public transport had shut down after one-too-many bus had stayed bogged in the drifts. Everyone hid at home, the whirlwind of their lives put on pause by the one outside.
Everyone except us.
Ironic, considering how much of the last 18 years I had spent underground, inside the Heart or another clandestine farm. The War Measures Act had forced the last of us to hide, but we hadn’t stopped working, building, preparing. We bid our time, knowing too well winters in Québec seemed to last forever, yet always ended.
I cast off the last of my tuque from its needles. Heating down here sucked, and I’d taken to knitting again. Purl, purl, yarn over. The sing-song rhythm I used to sing to myself, back before the System, had returned in strength. At first I had hummed it as a joke, a war-like chant, but soon others in our community joined in.
Purl, purl, yarn over.
Chantal was the first to add another line. This is our battle, it has no guns no bombs. I’d looked at her and laughed. We were knitting, not marching into war! And yet, had I not learned 40 years ago that resistance took many forms? Our very existence—every year surviving in the Heart, keeping the Mycorrhiza alive and thriving through every part of the province, connecting even to the rest of Canada’s network—that was indeed a battle. And another fight prepared to unfold.
To outside eyes, we’d be gone and defeated for a long time. History reported that following martial law, civil unrest had vanished and the anarchists behind it had all found their way to jail. Many certainly had. Dieudonné’s last decade of life had been a back of forth of jail and liberty, alternating between doing time and defending those already behind bars. We missed his warmth and smile but could rarely afford to speak directly with him.
Pro-Seed must realize we hadn’t given up yet. Today they’d taken another step to eradicate those who refused to bend knees—parasites, they said. Pretexting the storm, they had shut down power across Limoilou, St-Jean-Baptiste, Saint-Roch, Saint-Sauveur and Wendake. Weathermen predicted a wave of cold unlike any others after this heavy fall. They meant to let nature kill us and keep their hands clean. Who needed guns when the city’s entire infrastructure belonged to you? But I’d long ago predicted we couldn’t depend on them. We’d successfully kept ourselves fed and out of their System, but to truly thrive out of their reach and keep everyone warm, we needed better power sources. We were ready, though. No one would freeze to death.
After a lifetime building an underground, sovereign society, we had to emerge. Time for us to bloom and take over. They had called us weed, and I was of a mind to prove them right.
I spun about, raising my angry-red tuque, my fingers a tight fist around it. Many had gathered, watching the screens and listening to the list of neighbourhoods without power, tension building with every new name.
“They stole our seeds, and now they cut our power!” My voice echoed in the large cavern. Row upon row of makeshift hydroponic and luscious green hadn’t erased the concrete tunnel in which we hid. I naturally fell into the same rhythm as our little knitting song, half-chanting my words. “They think to dry us dead, but we have grown into something bigger and sturdier than they know!”
I shoved the tuque on my head. Everyone dressed up for the blizzard outside. Chantal snatched my hand.
“It’s time. To the Stem, my friends. Today we break through the ice.”
I turned to Chantal, the only one of us still dressed down. Someone had to stay behind, to activate the machinery. This was her baby, the result of years of secret correspondence with engineers over the world, of adapting the technological marvels of the Sub-Saharan region to our harsh winters before hiding her invention in plain sight. She deserved the honour.
“I’ll come back safe,” I promised.
Despite the admonition, Chantal’s voice didn’t contain any anger, only worry and love. After so long camouflaged in the cliff, today’s burst into the light stressed us all. Nothing safe about exposing ourselves to Pro-Seed’s wrath, not when we were so tiny. Insignificant, compared to such a giant. But nature had taught me times and again size did not always matter.
Chantal stepped away from me. She smiled, and beautiful lines crinkled her visage. Time and effort had left their mark on us all.
“Go,” she said. “And remember: This is our battle.”
“It has no guns, no bombs.”
I picked up the chant, rising my voice higher. Behind me, the two hundred permanent residents of the Mycorrhiza’s Heart joined in, their voice thundering through the cavern.
“Just the thread of our yarn and the strength of our hearts!”
And we were off, chanting as we climbed the ladder to our exit on Honoré-Mercier, pouring out into a stinging white blizzard. We emerged from our hole like ants, pooling around in the snow, our voices covering the howling wind. My throat turned raw from the effort, but I did not let go.
Others joined the march as we climbed to the Fontaine de Tourny. By the time we encircled the massive decoration offered to Québec City to celebrate its 400th anniversary, we must have been almost two thousand. I stifled a bitter laugh. Such a small number, compared to the 300,000 that had marched in Montréal, so long ago. But these days, any protest was met with brutal repression, and those arrested received more than a fine. The game and numbers had changed, and yet the ultimate goal remained.
I climbed on the Fontaine and stared at the Parlement, the centuries-old stone building looming through the storm. To think it’d been a symbol of people’s voice once. Now they squabbled over the details of laws meant to crush us further, pretending in turn to defend interests other than those of megacorporations. Power and money had corrupted our lawmakers ages ago.
I contemplated the work left ahead of us—how old and weary that made me feel!—then chased the grim thoughts away. I was not alone, nor did we have to do everything in our time. This battle had never been an individual’s, and I refused to fall prey to that mistake. I was but one part of a bigger movement; one cell in a living organism.
A huge snow drift buried the Fontaine, but I scrambled to its top, grabbing the forged-steel tip through hand-knit mitts. A hushed silence followed my climb. People still joined the swelling group, some with confused looks, as if they had no idea why they’d ventured into the storm. And perhaps they didn’t, perhaps they just wanted to be part of something bigger than themselves, to see what was happening with their own eyes rather than through the filter of media.
“My name is Rasha Teniou. I have been on every watch list since I turned 25. I am a Québec citizen, as are all of us here today, but you will not find us in Pro-Seed’s registration system. We are the unnamed weed growing between concrete cracks, the dangerous revolutionaries they want you to fear. We are everyone, burdened by decades of savage social cuts, arbitrary food rationing, and tight information control. But we will be free. The revolution they foretold has come.”
A slight tremor reached through ground and stone, and the Fontaine vibrated under my palm. Perfect timing as always, I thought. Most missed the subtle shake, too busy cheering. Voices rose above others; I recognized many from the Heart.
“Purl. Purl. Yarn over.”
The chant grew in volume, and so did the rumble under our feet. My heart beat in a frenzy, threatening to burst out of my chest. In that moment, standing above a chanting crowd, battered by sharp winds and icy flakes, I recovered the drive of my youth. I laughed, years of back-breaking fight escaping through the throaty sound, and I spread my free arm out. The first sirens screamed in the distance, barely audible under the crowd’s endless rhymes.
“Purl. Purl. Yarn over.”
With an intense groan, the base of the Fontaine lifted. I clung tighter as I rose with it, the snow drifts slipping and threatening to drag me down. The crowd gasped as Chantal’s apparatus came to life. I brought a hand to my mouth to cast my voice out.
“This is our battle. It has no guns no bombs!”
The wind howled. The Fontaine and myself towered ten feet above ground and kept rising. Below, the crowd roared back at me.
“Just the thread of our yarn and the strength of our hearts.”
They kept singing as I went up and up, a full twenty feet above all. Warmth pooled in my stomach despite the snow storm. They were beautiful.
“Behold the Stem!”
I laughed again. This was getting to my head. Mechanisms clinked and clanked under me, working restlessly to deploy five huge petals. Not real ones, but large flat blades that caught the wind and creaked into a slow rotation. I tried to imagine what it’d look like, from the outside—an old madwoman gripping her mechanical plant, deploying the apparatus like a bad guy exposing their final weapon. I grinned. If we failed today, I’d go down in history as a villain. Might as well make it good, and monologue on top of my illegal flower.
“Never again shall we bend knees and beg for food and power. Here, on the top of Québec’s proud cliff, wind and sun will provide. The blades will spin in the deepest storms, or expand into large panels to catch the hot summer sun.”
And the best was that while I focused on Québec City, I knew dozens of similar flowers bloomed all across the country. At first we’d shared our plans through the province, but we’d quickly involved activists from BC to Newfoundland. All had agreed to hold off and keep our secret until we gave the signal—until today. Giant stems now grew in every major city across Canada, and with them sprouted hundreds of tinier models, each supporting the neighbouring houses.
“We’ve infected their network, linked an entire community through it. The power lines are ours! We will not hide, or run. Here, today, we have the means to begin a long battle, and reclaim what is ours. We have power. We have food. We have will.What do you say? Shall we fight?”
Their uproar filled me with pride. Just as a small turn to the left once had—a monumental event in my young mind. I knew better now. One act would not win us this fight. Even decades of building a self-sufficient, open community might not be enough. Old habits died hard, and oppressive systems were even worse. Even our community fell prey to them, so how could we hope to change the entire world?
As was so often the case, I had no answers, only hope. It would have to be enough.
May 22, 2082. Parc du tournesol, Ville de Québec. A personal retirement.
The sun’s glare in my screen obscured the old picture of myself, holding tight to a rising Sunflower, one arm spread wide as I drilled rebellion into the crowd’s. What a spectacle I made! One wrinkled revolutionary, hidden behind bright red knitwear, clinging to a metal giant. Every time I saw images of that peculiar day, I cackled.
“Did anyone really take me seriously?” I asked.
Dieudonné swept closer and pressed a kiss in my hair. “They did. I knew better, of course.” He laughed at the glare I cast him. “So many thought you had a weapon in the Stem. They couldn’t conceive we’d fight without guns.”
And they had used theirs. They’d attacked us the day we’d revealed the Stem, but the snow captured their trucks and cars, and we’d spread through the neighbourhood to escape direct confrontation. By the time they’d reached the Fontaine’s Sunflower, Chantal had wound it back. Winter riots had followed our day in the blizzard and intensified through the summer. They rolled the army in a third time, but for every Sunflower they took down—for every hidden garden they destroyed—a dozen others cropped up. The mycorrhizal network had spread further and deeper than I had dreamed of, and through a long, grinding fight, we took over the surface.
Some days I marvelled the three of us had made it through—that somehow, despite being shot at frequently, Chantal, Dieudonné, and I had reached old age and could laze in a public park, outside, right in front of the Parlement.
We were here now. Sovereign in power and food, our elected government free of old crooks and lobbyists. We’d yet to decide if the current democratic system should be kept, but this stand-in would need to do for a while. I sighed and closed my tablet. So much remained to be done. We’d pushed Pro-Seed out, yet this victory felt like a drop in the ocean.
“Getting discouraged again?” Dieudonné asked.
“How can I not?”
He squeezed my shoulder. “They’ll be fine.”
They. We’d become old bones, the memory of an arduous road in the darkness. Activists in their twenties came to hear me talk of the old days, clinging to my words with respect we’d too often neglected to give our elders. I reached to my hat and unpinned the frayed carré rouge I so often showed them. I had always had one with me, through all these battles.
“We’re leaving them the hardest part, aren’t we?”
We had fought to dismantle, but they would have to rebuild. One institution at a time, over the course of generations. It scared me to think they might fail and fall into the same traps we so often had—racism, ableism, sexism, and so many others. But I had to let go. Exactly 70 years had passed since my first act of civil disobedience. A life spent cleaning what I could, and building the tools to allow others to do more. Time to let these ‘others’ do what they could.
“Help me down.”
Dieudonné frowned, but he held my arm as I bent, putting one knee in the soft grass. I dug bony fingers into the soil, gritting my teeth against the pain. This position hurt my back, and I had no idea how I’d get back up. Too late now. I carved a small hole in the ground, then gently placed the carré rouge inside. I closed my eyes, letting memories flood through me. Dieudonné waited in silence, his head bent. Hundreds of manifs and protest chants echoed through my mind and lifted my heart. In a deliberate movement, I covered the red square with dirt.
This had been my battle. I’d had no guns, no bombs. Just the felt of my symbol and the strength of my heart.
And it had been enough.