Black White Yellow
rating: +5+x

"Have you ever heard stuff from Bérurier Noir1?"
"Wait, don't tell me. I've heard that word before. That's the humans who carry stuff at funerals, isn't it?"
"You know, the guys carrying coffins and shit."
"That's "pallbearers", not Bérurier, Zéphyr."

Zephyr was busy hanging laundry on a rope stretched between two buildings, with a basket on his head. Mehdi's mother, who lived on the ninth floor, had paid him a coin to do this. It was pretty easy when you had a natural flotation bag on your back and gravity was so weak - you just had to be careful not to get blown away by a gust of wind, but he'd attached his strap.

"It's a band. Bambi played me some of their stuff yesterday at the Manor. They're very angry, but in a fun way."
"Like when you throw rotten stuff into clouds of gas just to see how it explodes?"
"Oh, I see."

His friend Stratus, perched on an ironwork balcony with his tail wrapped around a watering can, was trying to open a can of a soft drink called "Schweppes". Zéphyr wasn't sure how to pronounce that, or what it meant. Both of them drank quite a lot of it - it was one of the few local foods that suited their metabolism just fine and wasn't regulated by their mediator.

Stratus pulled a little too hard on the metal tab, the tip came off, and the can remained desperately closed. Dark iridescent waves flashed across his dorsal gasbag and he snapped his beak furiously.

"I'm warning you," said Zephyr, clipping a clothespin onto a T-shirt, "if this spills on the lady's laundry and costs me my coin, I'm never gonna talk to you again." He'd already carefully stored said coin in one of the colorful fanny packs he wore on his harness, over his t-shirt - or rather, over the half-shirt he'd cut up, as all the Aeolians of the Raft did, so he could put it on without it getting in the way of the gasbag on his back.
It was a two-color coin with "10F" written on it. You could buy several cans with that.

Instead of answering, Stratus stuck his beak into the top of the can to pop the tab.
A drop of blue blood trickled out, but the waves of color on his back took on a far more satisfied hue. He grabbed the can with both hands and poured the entire contents into his mouth at once, hanging upside down by his tail. Zephyr clicked frantically - if he'd been human and not Aeolian, the word would probably have been "giggled".

"As if you could ever find another friend," Stratus finally retorted (his voice buzzing a little due to the bubbles in the soft drink), before tossing the empty can into a garbage can nine floors below. White stripes rippled down Zephyr's back. "That's not nice for Mehdi," he said as he finished hanging up a pair of trousers.
Although he saw them every day, he still found it vaguely alien that there were clothes designed for legs he'd never had.


The two Aeolian teens lurked, hidden in a half-empty dumpster at the corner of the alleyway that marked the limit of the neighborhood managed by the mediator of their community's Raft. There was a slight effect which blurred perceptions along said limit, outlined by discreet little balloon-shaped tags; this made the area a little harder to examine for an outsider, but it was still a good idea to remain cautious and not look too conspicuous.
A thirteen or fourteen year-old Algerian kid made his way toward their hiding place, skirting the wall with a conspiratorial air. He was wearing a tracksuit with patched-up elbows, holding a pack of soda cans in his right hand, and his left hand was hidden under a mitten.
"What else you got?" whispered Zephyr.
"Stole some lollipops."
"Got some kind of giant chewing gum too."
"Ah. We can't eat that with our beaks," Stratus complained.
"That's for me, dumbass. My salary for running your errands."
"You'd rather pay triple by buying your cans at the Raft's indoor market?"
"Nah. That's fine by me," said Zephyr.
"So… we're going to the hideout before the mediator's speech at the Manor?"
"Hell yeah."


"Meh-di! Meh-di! Mayday! Here comes the cart!"
"Shut the fuck up!"

Mehdi pushed with all his strength on the shopping cart's handlebars. He jumped in as soon as it gained sufficient speed and grabbed hold of one of Zephyr's bags. Stratus clicked up a storm, holding his arms like airplane wings, as their improvised racer sped along the slope beneath the bridge over the Seine river. They unhooked their safety straps a few meters from the edge and floated as best they could above the surface, clicking and howling with laughter as the cart sank like a rock into the foul water. Despite Mehdi's extra forty-five kilos to carry, they flew over the river and managed to reach the other slope safely.

Out of breath, they climbed up and floated to their "hideout", a ledge with a secret crevice. No risk of getting caught in there. Stratus switched on the lamp they'd hung on the wall. It illuminated ten small square meters of bridge pillar interior, littered with empty cans, candy wrappers and old newspapers. "I heard we're going to be relocated by the raft mediator," he said without preamble.

"Oh no," said Mehdi, "no way. I don't have a lot of friends here already-"

"I didn't really get why, though. I think there's an organization that spotted us in the area? Or cops? No idea. They'll tell us more tonight at the Manor, I think." He emptied his pockets, opened the bag where they kept their supply of sweets, and picked a packet containing a lollipop and some fizzing powder.

Zephyr grabbed a bouncing ball from one of his multiple bags and began throwing it against one of the walls, the one where they'd drawn clouds. "I don't feel like relocating."

Mehdi unwrapped his chewing gum and, to his delight, discovered a small cardboard firecracker inside. He stuffed it into his pocket. "We may have to move too. The other day, my mom overheard some neighbors talking shit about my hand," he said, raising his left hand. He was wearing a wool mitten on that one even in the middle of summer. "They said I had the Ayn and I was gonna curse them or some shit."

"Bunch of dumb cunts," snapped Stratus, keeping the fizzy powder for himself and tossing the lollipop to Mehdi, who caught it in mid-air.

The ball stopped bouncing. "What's the Ayn?" asked Zephyr, floating in front of their mural.

Mehdi removed his mitten and placed his hand upside down on his forehead in a dramatic gesture. He spread his fingers to open the extra eye in the palm of his hand."Hoooooo, it's the evil eeeeeye," he hooted. Zephyr emitted a flurry of delighted clicks. He placed the fluorescent ball in the middle of his four eyes and shrieked like an owl in response. Mehdi burst out laughing. He put his mitten back on, fished a book out of his own bag and started leafing through it. "Hey, look what I found in the dumpster downstairs. It's great. Lots of pictures of old weapons and shit."

Zephyr leaned over to get a better look. Beneath a coffee stain were drawings of humans in blue or red suits pointing guns at each other.

"I asked my cousin who lives outside the community if they saw stuff like this in school, but they only learn lame shit," sighed Mehdi. "But I'd still like to go to school. With the mitten, I'm sure no one would notice a thing."

"You know, to me you're already hard to distinguish from a normal human. At first I thought the eye in the hand was just a rare thing that some humans were born with or something," Stratus objected, continuing to coat his beak with sparkling powder. He licked some off, and multicolored circles crackled like silent fireworks on his flotation bag. "Why don't you show it more often around us, anyway? I don't mind."
"I can see through that one too," Mehdi shrugged. "It sucks to see two points of view at the same time."
"Sound fun, though."
"Nah. It makes me want to puke. But who cares? Look at that."

Mehdi put the book in Zephyr's hands with an authoritative air. "Look! They used to put mixed powders in a gun or a cannon and BOOM, it exploded. You needed three different colors." Zephyr struggled to decipher the letters under the image of a black powder: s-u-l-f-u-r, s-a-l-p-e-t-e-r, c-h-a-r-c-o-a-l. "Is that what makes car smoke?" he asked.
"Nah," laughed Mehdi. "That's gasoline, dumbass. It's liquid."
"But it explodes too, doesn't it?"
"It burns if you set it on fire, yeah. But it's not the same."
"Dynamite explodes too, doesn't it?" asked Stratus.
"What?" said Zephyr.
"Dynamite. It was in the Bérurier Noir song Bambi made me listen to. It was a concert, and at one point the guy says to the public "and together we're dynamiiiiiite."
"Fuck, why are you both so interested in stuff that explodes?" asked Mehdi as he put his book away.

Stratus had almost finished licking up the fizzy powder and his back was flashing like a fairground carousel in the middle of the night. "Well, the planet we came from, it was a lot more gas than this one. Had lots of games with it back there." He wiped his beak on his half-shirt. "It was like our own version of shopping cart races, you see."
"I'd be too scared to live in the clouds," Mehdi said, crunching noisily on his lollipop. "Especially if they explode."


The speech had already begun at the Manor. The thirty or so refugees were all present. Stratus tried to join his parent to the right of the assembly. Zephyr floated discreetly to the back of the room, and found himself next to Cirrus, a slightly older Aeolian in a sorry state. He had pictograms scarred across his back, and was displaying completely aberrant colors, his pupils dilated. Out of the corner of his eye, Zephyr saw him hastily stuff a piece of metal into his pocket. He probably was one of the young adults who spent most of their days completely addicted to copper. Exile on Earth was always harder for them to cope with.

The Manor was, in truth, a disused industrial warehouse surrounded by low-income housing and other more or less run-down buildings, right in the heart of the small Parisian suburb where the Raft of the Aeolian refugees had decided to set up shop a good ten years ago. This was more or less their headquarters, or common room, and it was where most of them lived, as well as their mediator. It was also where he asked them to craft small items to sell outside the community to try and keep it afloat financially. Liferaft's rafts were each headed by a mediator responsible for protecting community members, managing supplies and relocating them to a safer location in the event of an information leak. The Aeolian Raft's mediator was Flaille, a Coluguian from Alpha Tauri - a humanoid with large round eyes in a flat face filled with sharp little teeth and framed by four expressive ears. It was he who had renamed them in human meteorological terms, in a vain attempt to integrate them, having himself been exiled from his planet for political reasons. To Zephyr, he looked as alien as human beings did.

Tonight, Flaille had climbed onto the platform that overlooked the rest of the warehouse - shelves, tables, bottles, individual lockers where people stored their belongings - and his big ears were flapping so hard he looked like he was trying to fly away to join the rest of his floating, multicolored audience. "And they have access to experimental teleportation technology," he enthused. "You know as well as I do that we'll never have the budget to charter a ship to repatriate all of you, but this organization is looking to test a teleporter on intelligent beings. It already works very well on animals - they gave me a demonstration with rats - and the current failure rate is less than 1%! We'd kill two birds with one stone: those who want to return home can sign up, and these humans can check whether their technology is operational, free of charge. What do you say?"

Reactions were mixed. Several Aeolian whistled enthusiastically, others seemed perplexed, and some chatted in hushed tones. Flaille twitched his ears in annoyance. "Think again! This may be an opportunity you'll never get again. I'm not forcing you to do anything. Volunteers just need to gather with their belongings tomorrow noon, in the courtyard behind the Manor."

A few Aeolians floated to the wall where the sign-up sheet had been hung, and signed it with a pen which was attached to some string. Flaille's ears perked up in a question mark - a sign of satisfaction for his species - and a row of his sharp little teeth barred his face with a zipper-like grin. "And on that note, I'll leave you to think! As they say around here, sleep on it," he concluded, clapping his hands and heading for his quarters.

Zephyr was torn. Everything was happening really fast and, having no guardian, he didn't know who to ask for advice. He glanced in the direction of Stratus, whose parent had gone to sign without hesitation - his friend's eyes were flickering rapidly, the Aeolian equivalent of a crying fit. So as not to humiliate his friend, Zephyr stopped staring at him. He turned to the young copper-drugged Aeolian: "You're going to sign?"
"Sign?" said the guy, staring at him with his huge pupils.
"Well, sign the paper to go home."
"Huh. I guess so, yeah."
"That doesn't scare you? We don't know if it'll work. We could die."

Cirrus' skin flashed aberrantly again. He reached into his pocket to touch his piece of copper. His arm spasmed. His tongue snapped. He clicked a little.

"Not sure I care whether I live or die," he decided, floating awkwardly toward the list.


He needed the opinion of an outsider. Quickly. The opinion of a normal human being.

Bambi could be spotted from a distance by the smell of cigarettes. Zephyr found her sitting on a staircase, surrounded by a greyish cloud. Her bike was lying haphazardly against the railing, her sewing kit was spread out on a step, and she was sewing another bottle cap onto the left sleeve of her jacket. The last time Zephyr had asked her what it was for, she'd replied that it was her armor. Something like that was necessary, he assumed, to survive on the streets when you were a human and couldn't fly away in an emergency.

He watched her for a moment, floating a few meters above her, before opening one of his fanny packs and raining an impressive quantity of bottle caps onto Bambi's knees and tangled brown hair. Surprised, she burst out laughing. She stuffed the new capsules into one of her bags, and high-fived him as soon as he came down to her level. "So? Today's the day? You're going back home? I heard the news earlier!"
"News flies fast."
"Travels fast."
"Yeah, that's the word. Sorry."
"Have you signed the list yet?"
"Uh, not yet."

Bambi grabbed a pointy tool from her kit and began peircing holes through a new bottle cap. Zephyr wrapped his tail around the staircase railing and looked around. There was a battered sofa lying against a wall, several empty crates, and a fair amount of graffiti. In one corner, a cat was half-hidden in a cardboard box where a neighbor had kindly placed a small blanket and a plastic bowl filled with water. On the opposite wall, someone had clumsily drawn a rocket.
He shrank a little. "Bambi?"
"I'm not sure I want to go back to my planet."
"I don't remember it very well. This one feels more familiar, after all this time, you know?"

She sniffed. "Okay, but, like, what are your future prospects here? Acrobat? Fairground freak? Window washer?"
"The mediator often says it's 'Nasa dissection video'. I'm not sure what that means."
"Ha! He's not wrong. Humans would cut you up to find out what makes you tick."
"You don't cut me up."
"Fair point."

His gaze fell on some pages torn from a book that were collecting water near a gutter. Small, thoughtful green circles appeared on his back. "'Truth be told, I'd like to go to high school."
"High school? What the hell would you even do there?"
"I don't know. Mehdi shows us books, sometimes. Earlier we were talking about gunpowder. Sounded interesting."
"He wanted to go to school, but his mother wouldn't let him because of the eye in his hand."
"Listen. If your friend Mehdi doesn't go to school, it's not because he's got an eye in his hand. It's because he's got no passport, and neither do his parents. And you better believe the cops don't give a shit about his eye."

Zephyr sighed and looked up. The sky was starting to turn a little pink, but it was impossible to see the sun go down with all those buildings around. And he wasn't allowed to climb too high - that was forbidden by Flaille, who feared their community would be spotted.
Bambi glanced at him sideways. She seemed to hesitate for a moment, then stubbed out her cigarette on the ground and stood up: "Hey, d'you want to go up on the roof? We'll be careful, no one will see you."

Zephyr nodded frantically.


"Stay close to the ventilation shaft. Are you strapped in? You're not going to fly away?"
"Yeah, I'm good."

A cool breeze blew across the roof, momentarily making them forget the polluted atmosphere. Zephyr wrapped his tail around the pipe to which he had fastened his strap and settled down to watch the sunset. Bambi, meanwhile, had already lit another cigarette and brought out her sewing equipment as if they'd never moved an inch. She threaded a new cap onto her needle and gazed up at the orange-pink sky. "It's still beautiful, isn't it?"
"Yeah, it is. Kind of reminds me of home," admitted Zephyr.
"I thought you didn't remember it very well."
"I remember the sky."
"That's something."
"There was a lot more of it there than here."
"More sky?"

Zephyr rummaged absent-mindedly through his bags and fanny packs. He found several small yellow coins of a few cents of francs, a plastic lighter given by Bambi, one of Mehdi's mother's clothespins, and a bag of fizzy powder he had saved for Stratus. For all he knew, this could be the last day he'd spend on earth with his friends, fooling around with shopping carts and talking about music where stuff blows up. His eyes were starting to flicker a little.

"Your music thing? Does it have batteries?"
"My walkman? Yeah, why?"
"I'd love to hear what you made Stratus listen to. There's a song he likes where they talk about dy-na-mo."
"Dynamo? Are you sure?"
"It's from the Pallbearers Noir?"
"The Pallb- The Bérus? Oh, you mean dynamite?"
"It's during the concert I recorded but it's not really in a song. It's just that they say that to the audience at one point when they're singing La Jeunesse Emmerde le Front National2. Wait, I'll find it for you."

Bambi unpacked one of her cloth bags and pulled out the Walkman she'd been hiding under her spare clothes. She rewound the cassette a little, pressed stop, turned the sound up and handed him the headphones. Zephyr's ears weren't made for human headphones - the width didn't match - but he could still hold one of the earphones against one ear and listen.
Stratus was right, these guys were very pissed off.
He didn't understand everything. The singer bellowed "parqués dans des cités-dortoirs3", and he clicked a little. That, on the other hand, he understood. Bambi smiled.
Indeed, at one point the guy could be heard shouting to the audience: "we're black, we're white, we're yellow, and together we're dy-na-mite!". He thought of Mehdi and gunpowder. Since the sound could be heard even through the headphones, at another point Bambi sang out loud, "jeunesse française, jeunesse immigrée, so-li-da-ri-téééééé4". Zephyr clicked harder, watching the sun sink between the towers. Circles crackled all over his skin. It was them! The song was talking about them!

He gently returned the headphones to Bambi once the song was over, and pressed the button that had a square on it, so as not to use too many batteries. "That was cool. Thanks. Do they have any more?"
"Plenty! We can listen to them another day, if you decide to stay."

Anxiety returned at full speed. He wrapped himself even tighter around the pipe near the ventilation shaft. The sun had almost gone, and Bambi's cigarette was almost finished.
He looked at her. Her wrists were very skinny, for a young adult human being. Her hair - he'd never get used to the idea of strings growing out of someone's head - was dirty and tangled. What would become of her if the Raft left the neighborhood and normal humans took over? Where was she going to live?

"What's your…" He struggled with the words, trying to remember the ones she'd used a little earlier. "Your future prospects?"
She stopped sewing for a moment, then resumed her work as if nothing had happened. "Never ask me something like that, I'm just trying to make it to the end of the month," she sneered.
"I just wanna know where you're gonna go."
"If I never go back to my father's, that would already be pretty great."
"You won't."
"Yeah. He'd have to catch me first. Without my real name, it's more complicated."
"Bambi isn't your real name?"

She burst out laughing.

"How could that be my real name?"
"Why couldn't it be?"
"Bambi is the name of an animal in a cartoon, Zephyr, it's not a human's name."
"You're so damn funny. I love it."
"Zephyr's not my name either."
"Yeah, you told me that a long time ago. But you still haven't told me the real one."

He whistled two notes and blinked in black and white.

"And Stratus, it's…"

He whistled two more notes and blinked yellow and black. Bambi smiled sweetly at him, looking a little sad. "You know… I'm happy for you guys, if you can go home. But I'm going to miss you all."

Zephyr's eyes were flickering really hard.

Bambi tugged at a knot and patted her cap-covered sleeve. She blew the smoke from her cigarette in the opposite direction, so as not to bother Zephyr too much.

"You know, if I had another planet, you better believe I'd get the hell out of this one."


Zephyr was sleeping upside down, his tail wrapped around one of the warehouse beams. In his dreams, there was no ground.

There were layers of gas of different colors, different densities, more or less breathable, which his people considered zones in their own right, some kind of oceans full of danger. There were banks of Floaters of different sizes and species, farmable and harvestable, or wild and unpredictable. There were networks of Aromas where delicious fruit grew, and others that accumulated deadly toxins as each bank of mist rolled by. There were the Ropes and Perches made by his people, linking various places together. There was an up and a down, and everything in between, but no real limits to the world.

And yet, in his dreams where there was no ground, there were borders. And there was a war to redraw them.

He'd been very young when his parent had decided to send him far away from danger and explosions - a poorly thought-out, emergency rescue program, created to temporarily transfer children and the elderly to a small blue planet. He couldn't remember the details very well, and the details of his world were slowly fading from his memory. But dreams had a kind of clarity that real memories could never achieve, and in them, he floated toys on rain collectors, hung from quill-covered branches under pink, orange and yellow skies, and challenged his friends to float through small toxic clouds without breathing. Their faces had almost all faded away.

In his dreams where there was no ground, Zephyr felt half at home and half a stranger.


The morning passed like he was sleepwalking. He collected bottle caps for an hour or two (with the vague idea of giving them to Bambi before leaving), watched most of the others gather their meager belongings into bags, and spent some time clicking his lighter.

By half past eleven, he hadn't said goodbye to anyone, and he still hadn't signed his name on the sheet. Looking for Mehdi through the warehouse windows, he saw a very large gray and black truck pull up not far from the limit of the Raft.

At midday, he was about to summon up his courage when the mediator announced that tents had been set up in the former parking lot of the warehouse by the company that would repatriate them, and that they had to go from one tent to the other to register their belongings and undergo a few cursory medical examinations. Stratus was already with his parent, in the line forming in front of the white tents. Mehdi was nowhere to be found.
Zephyr reluctantly made his way to the end of the queue. He didn't want to leave, but he wanted to stay on his own even less. Apparently, several Aeolians had already entered the tents.

" One by one only, please!" said a human in a white coat in front of the flap of the first tent, while Stratus's parent was signing a paper.

The line was slowly moving along. Zephyr wondered about the line of tents - there had to be one for luggage, one for signing things, and one for exams, he reasoned. As if to confirm his hypothesis, he vaguely heard "-put the bag in-" as Cirrus entered the first tent. His bag looked really heavy. He didn't know the junkie owned so much stuff. Maybe it was full of copper pipes.
He fidgeted with the caps on the strap of his fanny pack. He wasn't sure he wanted to leave it in the tent. Nervously, he adjusted his T-shirt to hide it underneath.

There were only three people left in front of him when another human in a white coat waved past the mediator, near the Manor's largest door.
One of the flaps of his coat billowed, revealing a gun, and Zephyr felt like ice-cold soda was descending into his belly.
No, no, no. It had to be his imagination, it-

Humans would cut you up to find out what makes you tick, Bambi said in his head.

There was a dull thump, coming from one of the tents.
The tents from which he'd seen no one emerge, he screamed inwardly.

He inflated his gasbag abruptly and took off, but a fraction of a second too late - he felt a hand grab him by the tail and violently yank him to the ground. The world whirled, and something hit him head-on above the beak. He dropped and found himself looking at a pair of blurry black combat boots. A second blow landed.
"What the hell are you doing?" vociferated a distant human voice. "MC&D want them in one piece. You want to ruin our bonus?"
"That little bastard wanted to get away," growled the voice from the tent entrance.
"Don't kill it you moron," insisted the other. "Their blue blood is worth gold on the black market. A lot more than your paycheck. Every day! That's what the customer said. Just follow orders. Drug it."

The world suddenly had no ground.


He awoke to an appalling racket, jostled from all sides and tossed by the motions of a vehicle. Beaks were rattling, and people were screaming and flickering all over the place.

He remembered a blow between the eyes.

Don't kill it.

The panic was intense, and it took him a good minute to analyze the situation.

The only ambient light was coming from panic-stricken chromatophores.

All the Aeolians were in the same place, without their luggage, in a confined space.

This confined space was a cage made of metal rods, as thick as pencils, that criss-crossed each other to form coarse meshes, as wide as a hand.

Their belongings were piled several meters away from the cage.

In the other direction, there was a huge, closed double door.

The room was moving.

They were inside a moving truck, constantly driving and stopping, as if it was stuck in a traffic jam.

Don't kill it, said the voice. Their blue blood is worth gold on the black market. That's what the customer said.

Someone leaned on him to try to escape from the cage, and he re-inflated his gasbag to gain some height. The cage was a little lower than the inside of the truck, but he still had a better view like that. He spotted the mediator, his clothes half torn, his ears laid back in terror, clutching at the bars. "GET ME OUT OF HERE! WE HAD A DEAL!" yelled Flaille at the mercenaries, who probably couldn't hear him.

Zephyr twitched. What did he mean, they had a-

"A deal? A deal??" snapped Stratus's parent - Zephyr had never been able to remember the Earth name assigned to him - as he grabbed one of Flaille's ears. "Did you hear that?" continued the parent, so furious that he was becoming entirely zebra-white, almost livid. "That bastard sold us out! He sold us all out!!!"
"They had sworn-!" began Flaille.
"Sworn what? Sworn WHAT? That they'd leave you alone in exchange? That you'd be integrated among humans? That you were a "good alien"??"
"That- they'd send me back to-"
"To YOUR planet?
"How could you believe such bullshit??"
"I don't know, I- you're- I'm-"
"What were you thinking? That they'd treat you differently because you look more human than the rest of us??"
"I- yes- I-"
"But we're the same, asshole! They don't know the difference between us! We're all fucking aliens to them! Animals! They don't give a fuck about you either!"

Some were protesting, others were shouting at the mediator, others hadn't even heard anything and were blinking frantically in terror. Some were trying to twist the cage's meshes to make them larger, but strangely enough, they seemed lost, their gestures less and less steady, their gaze more and more distant.

Stratus grabbed one of the already twisted meshes and pulled on it. His pupils dilated almost immediately and he threw his arms back as if the mesh had electrocuted him.

"IT'S COPPER! THE RODS ARE COPPER! DON'T TOUCH THE CAGE!" shouted Zephyr. Most of them ignored him and continued to force their way through the mesh, becoming increasingly lethargic and haggard. One of them tried tried to wrap his shirt around his hands, but clearly, the effect was working through the fabric too. The others were too busy insulting and even hitting the mediator. They needed tools, thicker protection, gloves, but everything was in their bags outside of-

One of the largest bags was moving in the back of the truck, among the pile of luggage. With all the panic and the bumpy road, no one else seemed to have noticed. The knot was very tight, but something was trying to force it from the inside.

With some difficulty, a gloved human hand emerged.

"Mehdi?!" cried Zephyr. "What the fuck are you doing here?"

If there was an answer, it was muffled by the fabric and the commotion. The gloved hand fumbled around to find the knot that closed the bag.

"The Ayn! Use the Ayn!" shouted Zephyr. The hand stopped, disappeared into the bag for a moment, and emerged without its mitten, the eye opened wide in the middle of the palm. It swiveled methodically to observe its immediate surroundings, then the fingers grasped the knot to pull on it. Mehdi extricated himself from the bag, completely disheveled, and ran toward the cage. "What the hell were you doing in there??" shouted Zephyr, whose panic was making him flicker faster and faster.
"I wanted to see if those guys had weapons from the future!" exclaimed Mehdi, looking haggard. "I didn't think they'd-"
"Doesn't matter. D'you think you can twist the mesh?"
"With my right hand, yeah. Not the left, that'll put my eye out."
"Ugh, you've got to be kidding me! Pass me something, a piece of bag, anything to protect my-"
"Are you fucking stupid??" shouted Mehdi. "They left you your fanny pack!"

There were a few seconds of hesitation. It was true. Zephyr still had his favorite bag, hidden under his shirt. He untied it with feverish motions and wrapped the strap covered with metal caps around one of his hands. Mehdi pulled with his right hand, he with his left. The meshes began to twist and spread tediously. Still not enough to get an Aeolian through, even with a lot of imagination.

"What were you doing in my bag?" asked a slightly puzzled voice. Zephyr turned around. It was Cirrus. He didn't look particularly freaked out - more like completely lost.

"Ignore him, Mehdi, he's high all the time," interrupted Stratus, who was beginning to click with laughter and flicker his eyes at the same time as his nerves failed him and the copper bugged his brain.
"High?" inquired Mehdi, tugging harder at the mesh, sweat beginning to bead on his forehead. A head could have fit through the hole now, but no more. The flexibility of the copper rods had its limits, and they were barely making any progress now.
"High on-" began Zephyr. "Oh, shit. Shit. Cirrus? Think you could cut through that?" he asked, pointing at the meshes.
"The rods! The cage!"
"With my beak?? You're crazy."
"You lick it all the time! You're used to it! You could cut through one of them, that's for sure!"
"Even with my tolerance threshold, I'm going to overdose. What the hell for? We're all going to die already."
"I heard the humans! They don't want to kill us yet! They want our blood! They're going to bleed us dry! All the time! Until we die!"

There was a long pause, during which Cirrus stared blankly at one of the twisted copper rods. Zephyr remembered him from the day before, indolent, clumsily signing the list, not caring whether he lived or died.

"He won't listen to you," Stratus whined. "He doesn't give a damn. He's just a dumb junkie."

Cirrus stared at them, inexpressive, his absurd colors totally indecipherable. Stratus continued to click and flicker, fidgeting with his fingers. Mehdi pulled at the cage with his right hand. The caps sewn onto the fanny pack strap twisted and flattened under the pressure as Zephyr tugged on the rod. It was over. They had reached the limit of the torsion.

And then, something happened.

Without warning, Cirrus brought his beak down on the copper like a huge pair of wire cutters. His skin flashed like bugged Christmas lights. An incomprehensible whistling sound came from his throat. Zephyr clacked his beak in surprise.


Without pausing, the junkie attacked a second deformed rod. A trickle of blue blood began to run down the corner of his mouth. His arms spasmed violently. He hissed like a kettle.


As Mehdi, Stratus and Zephyr looked on in shock, Cirrus closed his bloody beak on a third rod with unearthly ferocity. His colors had long ceased to have any meaning. He was almost vibrating. What little could be seen of his eyes was completely black.


His head tilted back and he collapsed, flotation bag flat, foaming at the mouth, his colors almost gone. Stratus caught the junkie just before he hit the ground.
Zephyr inhaled deeply, exhaled, deflated his dorsal gasbag as much as possible… and managed to slip through the opening.
A few Aeolians turned around. "HEY!" cried one of them, "Cirrus has broken the bars!"
They dashed for the opening, and chaos resumed. Everyone wanted to get out first. Some were slammed against the mesh.
A shot echoed inside the truck. Everyone stood still.
Mehdi stood in front of the cage opening, two small pieces of cardboard in his hands.

"That was my only firecracker, so now you listen to me. We can all get out of here if we stay calm, okay? Let's go one at a time, and leave no one behind," he announced in a tone that allowed no discussion.
One by one, the Aeolians began to emerge from the cage. Some were still flickering, others muttering among themselves.
"Even that asshole?" asked Stratus's parent, still holding the mediator by one ear. Flaille shielded his head with his hands. From what little Zephyr could see, several of his sharp little teeth had fallen out.
"Even the asshole, Mister Stratus," insisted Mehdi.
"My name is Sirocco."
"Sorry, Mister Sirocco."
"What's your name?"
"Mehdi, sir."
"You'd do a better job than him, Mehdi the Mediator."
"That wouldn't be too difficult, Mister Sirocco."
"Ha! I like that guy," concluded Sirocco, pointing at Mehdi while dragging Flaille through the opening of the cage.

Zephyr had just discovered some kind of latch on the inside of the truck's doors. The truck had been gathering speed for a few minutes now. Perhaps they had left the traffic jam. He just hoped they hadn't reached the freeway yet.
He opened the door a little-
-and it flew open, revealing a black car following closely behind the truck, with several mercenaries inside, who exclaimed in surprise. Zephyr screamed and hid behind the other, still closed, door. "What are we going to do? What are we going to do??" he cried.
"We don't have our straps! We've got nothing to hang on to! We're going to fly away!" moaned one of the kids.
"Let's all fly away at once right in front of them!" suggested an adult.
"They've got guns," wailed Zephyr, "we're going to get shot…"
"Wait," muttered Sirocco. "I've got an idea."


Three Primordial mercenaries had indeed drawn their weapons in the pilot car, hoping to scare their alien cargo long enough to have time to stop the truck and lock everyone back inside. They were prepared for any eventuality.

Except, perhaps, for the alien mediator to be catapulted out of the truck, screaming for his life, and for him to smash right into their windshield.

The car swerved, hit the sidewalk and ended up against a brick wall.


The Aeolians were almost all holding hands as they emerged from the truck and inflated their flotation bags to full volume - Cirrus, still unconscious, was being carried by three youngsters, who were looking at the hero of the day with quasi-religious reverence. Stratus and Zephyr flanked a terrified Mehdi, who was holding onto Sirocco's tail and clearly had no desire to jump out of a moving vehicle.

The choice was made for him when the truck suddenly lurched, and he let go.

All three screamed and clacked in unison, but the wind was already blowing Sirocco and the others out of their reach. The driver must have seen the Aeolians fly off in his rear-view mirror, Zephyr realized between two panicked snaps of his beak. He tried to grab anything and everything while holding on to Mehdi, but the extra weight was dragging him toward the asphalt of the road.

The truck backed up violently, and they found themselves at the level of the driver's door, Zephyr clinging to the handle, Stratus to the footboard, and Mehdi to some kind of cap that protruded a little further down. The mercenary had rolled down his window and was simultaneously wrestling with his steering wheel and his gun, trying to reverse while holding them at gunpoint.

In the rearview mirror, Zephyr saw that they were approaching a bridge.

"F-FANNY PACK!" shouted Stratus, his voice made a little shaky by the copper he'd touched earlier. Without thinking, Zephyr reached into his bag and grabbed the first thing he could find. A cloud of fizzy lollipop powder made contact with the driver's eyes. The mercenary screamed and stomped on the gas pedal.
"THROW ME THE LIGHTER! THROW ME THE LIGHTER!" shouted Mehdi's voice from below, one arm clinging to Stratus, the one with the eye sticking his mitten into the truck's fuel hatch. Zephyr clumsily dropped his lighter and thought all was lost, but the hand with the eye caught it in mid-air with supernatural precision.
"W-WE ARE BLACK - WE ARE B-WHITE - WE ARE YELLOW-" stammered Stratus, beginning to let go.
"AND TOGETHER," Zephyr continued, preparing to jump, "WE ARE-"
"AAAAAAAAH DYNAMITE!" yelled Mehdi, setting fire to something he could only see out of the corner of his eye - and all three were hurled over the bridge railing by a powerful blast.

To their horror, their momentum carried them away from the nearest bank.

Zephyr inflated his flotation bag to the point of pain - Stratus, perhaps because of his condition, was only half able to do so - Mehdi clinging to him like a buoy. "It's like shopping carts, it's like shopping carts," Mehdi whimpered.

"Yeah, it's like shopping carts," Zephyr reassured him in vain, struggling against gravity, watching the surface of the water draw inexorably closer.

They dived in, only a few meters from the river bank. Zephyr struggled like a maniac. He'd never swum before in his life. His flotation bag was accidentally holding his head underwater. In his panic, he could no longer deflate it.

Colors danced before him.

There was no ground, there was no ground, there was no-

A squeaky bike approached at full speed, skidded to a halt with a metallic crash and a string of curses. Soon, someone dragged him out of the brackish water.

"What the hell have you all been doing??" vociferated Bambi, soaking wet, her clothes torn, as she dropped them one by one on the river bank.

Zephyr, breathless, his beak full of water, pointed to the sleeve of their friend's jacket, where several of the caps had popped off.

"It's okay," she said. "You'll find me some more."

He clicked with laughter between coughs.


"I saw Flaille earlier."
"Did you punch him?"
"No, he's still recovering from the accident. He's on a crutch and everything."
"Serves him right, motherf-"
"Actually, he'd come to tell us that the organization that runs the rafts in this country had appointed a new mediator for you guys."

Mehdi placed a plastic bag full of soda cans beside them. The roof of the disused water tower was really perfect for this kind of get-together with friends. Impossible to be seen from the ground as long as you didn't get too high, and you had a perfect view of the sunset over the suburbs.
They were just getting used to this new neighborhood - a small, half-ruined industrial zone surrounding an old water tower, the interior of which served as the new Manor. Most of the anomalous or simply illegal humans who depended on the Aeolian refugee raft to live on the margins of society had followed it. The community's anti-perception limits had been hastily redrawned, and the entire internal infrastructure had yet to be put back in place. Things were still very chaotic, but at least Flaille no longer had a stranglehold on the community's economy and supplies.

"So, who's the new mediator, then?" asked Zephyr.
Mehdi counted on his fingers. "Well, at first, they wanted Mister Sirocco, but since he'd just punched the shit out of Flaille, that choice wasn't very… uh…"
"Yeah," confirmed Stratus.
"So Mister Sirocco told them I could be the media-"
Stratus spat out his fizzy powder, clicking like a rattle. "Mehdi the Mediator!" hooted Zephyr in a flurry of clicks.
"So, I told them I didn't even go to school-"
"And that you were thirteen, too-"
"That makes no fucking difference!"
"Well. Yeah. Cause like. I can read slowly and make change or something, but I can't handle stuff like that. So they suggested someone else."

Footsteps echoed on the metal ladder behind them, and Bambi pulled herself up onto the roof in her still half-ripped jacket.

"Ah well, there she is," exclaimed Mehdi.
"Wait… Bambi? You're the mediator?" exclaimed Zephyr.
"Well, yeah," she confirmed, all smiles. "I've got a job now, apparently. It's going to be hard to learn all this stuff, but it's not like I don't have a ton of free time, eh?"

She sat down beside them and opened her sewing kit. Zephyr handed her a few caps he'd saved in his favorite fanny pack. Stratus fished four cans of soda out of the plastic bag and handed them around. In the distance, the sun was slowly sinking through the polluted clouds.

Mehdi raised his soda in the air, as if in toast. "Dynamite!" he declared.
Bambi smiled. Stratus clicked. Zephyr's colors fluttered on his back like butterflies. "Dynamite," they repeated, clinking the cans.

They pulled the tabs at the same time, facing the orange-pink hue of the near-infinite sky.

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