Beyond a nebula, hidden in the cosmic breath of the universe, there is a star that no one has even heard of. No one knows where to look for it, let alone how to think of it. It is categorically alone, which seems almost sad in the description of things, loneliness is a terrifying idea. But a star is only plasma and a bit of gas, unaffected by the whimsy of human emotion, instead prone to the irregularities of astronomical phenomena and the baffling laws of physics hurriedly drafted around them, done so by a flock of intelligent sorts who want to verify the existence of something else than ourselves. Proof that we, as a people, however vague or unscientific the definitions may be, are not alone, or worse, lonely.

Normally, starlight takes eons to convey its absence to us. Then it’s quite strange, isn’t it? For this star’s light to be instant, forming an unworn diadem in the night sky? But no one saw. There was no observation, no confirmed input, no reason to turn our attention toward it. Had we been looking, we could have grasped that this star had always been there and special. But science, our stern parent, had nothing to say about this. This obscure star flickered, like a bathroom light at the worst possible moment. And almost as inexplicably, everyone in the city suddenly needed to find a third.

As if there was never any doubt it would play out this way. Everything important becomes a jigsaw puzzle in hindsight. Before that moment, that little chaos, the nervous uncertainty scratching our throats and hearts and hands gripping bars for an answer or a resolution, there is no puzzle and there are no pieces. History does not have a direction, it is not a reverse teleology. There is only a lot that doesn’t make sense and it sucks. History is made to happen, a collective task. It just needs a starting signal.

Though maybe I’m being bitter. But how could I not be? I never needed a third.

From the place I was in I could see that star, from a little window, from 4:37 till 5:17. Before and beyond, only lamplight. To help pass the time, I read history books, the quirky and the beautiful kind. Mothlike, I was distracted by progress, when the wheel broke free from the mud of time. I was captivated with the people that pushed, the dirty shoes, and the window of opportunity.

From that same window, I saw all sorts of shoes: torn or restored or wet, his shoes, some shoes passed by three, sometimes four times a day. When the star flickered, there was a great stampede of shoes until I saw no more shoes at all. Like they finally went where they needed to be and could stay. My door had come unlocked. The house was empty except for just me. I understood what had happened – I prayed for whoever his third was – but for me, it was the first good thing that happened in a while.

Then, there were a bat and a frog. In the middle of the room, sitting patiently on the tray that used to carry my food. I was hungry like always.

“Hi there?” I stuttered.
said the bat.

I flinched: animals aren’t supposed to do that. A talking bat should have been the least surprising thing given the circumstances. But, call me old-fashioned, it was still something I had to get used to.

“Can… Can I help you?”
“You coming out of your room is what we’ve been waiting for, so you just did!”
“Yes, thank you,”
added the frog with an air of self-respect.

I had to rub my eyes to really believe what I saw, and clearing my vision only pulled my attention to their quaint little bodies. The free-tailed bat was wearing, what would seem, a pair of pilot goggles strapped tightly around his sprightly head, complete with holes for his long ears to go through. The frog, much more surprisingly and wonderful, had a little cape on, purple and suede with two copper strings tying it neatly around her big neck.

“I see you’re a little confused. I’m sure you feel the new way of things – everyone does! But the long and short of it, you are our third. Or maybe our second? It’s hard to explain, and I’m not that bright, so I won’t. But all you need to know is two simple things: we need you and you’re so special to us.”

“What is a ‘third’, exactly?”
“Well, that is… Uhhh! …Arevaló?”
“I will try, Tephenon,”
the frog turned to me. “It is difficult to place into words. It is not fate or destiny, nor is it whimsical chance. It is the truest gaze to peer into oneself. No longer obfuscated by mists of the mind, knowing what is needed and what is to be done to obtain it. Does that make sense?”

It was boggling to wrap my head around, so I responded honestly.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Don’t you feel it, too? That one of us is your third?”
“Not really, I don’t think I even have a second, haha.”

The two seemed simultaneously offended and understanding, assuming I’d learned to accurately read animal body language in the past ten minutes. That made sense to me: having this instinct to love and support someone only to find they don’t return the same. But I didn’t reject them – why would I? Care always comes from strange places; it will look foreign when the borders of the soul act as a quarantine.

“Soo… Tephenon and Arevaló? How come you can talk?”
“Waoah! How do you know our names?!”
“They overheard us, naturally.”
“Of course…”
“An easy answer, nonetheless. Just like any other language – Squirrelite, Buggine, French-Rodent, and so on, we learned to speak it. Might we know your name?”
requested Arevaló politely. That low baritone of hers, it was how wisdom sounded, a thrumming mixture of instruction and empathy. My skin shivered warmly, eager to give anyone my name:

“I’m Alright.”

On the coat rack near the front door hung a green jacket. It was his once. Tephenon asked if the both of them could hang out in the hood; I had the longest legs, so travel could be so much easier. I agreed. They hopped in and gave my ears a ticklish kiss.

What seemed so statistically unlikely mere moments ago had just happened, gently and simply. The two of them had been waiting in my living room for three days, feasting on the abundant leftovers and flies in the house, expecting my triumphant entrance. I had been swallowed by a hostile sort of solitude, a rat in a cage is only suspicious when let out. But when I stepped out, I was congratulated.

I felt relief and gratitude to nothing in particular, maybe to myself. I’d forgotten what the point was of the resistance, the resignation, the distraction. Time without goals erodes all meaning; it was easier to start counting the hours instead of awaiting the end. I don’t feel hurt or ashamed for knowing I had to adapt: pulling through takes a lot out of you. But, I slammed the door shut so hard it came flying off the handles, and it perplexed me:

Wow. Huh. It’d been worth it.

“Here you go,” I gave my two friends sugar cubes to snack on. We stopped near a familiar building. A healthcare service, one I visited every six months. He made me lie to the officer, that I was happy and just clumsy, so I’d get my pills. I took my pill and looked around. Its tall glass panes had been smashed apart and only birds decided it was worth living in; I wish I could have witnessed such a spectacle, the fall of a crystal palace, yet I avoided looking at my reflection scattered across broken shards.

“How did the two of you meet?”

“Oh, I, seem to have forgotten,” Tephenon replied. “I’m sorry, I don’t know a lot.”
“There are times when Tephenon regrets not knowing a lot; I assure him he knows enough: honesty and care.” Arevaló spoke with dependency.
“Two things is enough to know?”
Yes, if that is what you act with.”
She turned to me.

“My pond was polluted by humans. Over weeks, children died. Later still, our wombs were still. Then our hearts stopped. It was soon to be my turn, when he arrived.”
“Oh, oh! I remember! I was looking for food!”
she chuckled. “Hungry as he was, he refused to leave me and permitted me to live. One bite and I would be gone, but instead he carried me to the cleanest lake. We shared water without plastics for the first time. We haven’t been apart since.”

The broken lobby fell quiet with love, a true kind of affection that has been proven once and needs no reminders. No torment in favour of strengthening; no spite in favour of pardon. It clashed with the building and its lost purpose. I used to think of it as a great tree, so tall with its branches that reach everywhere and the caterpillars that eat and grow fat. I couldn’t pluck its fruits – I wasn’t even allowed the water from the coolers. Child services listened and coordinated, but never intervened. Turned me into a number, a token that I was a problem. But that wasn’t the case anymore.

I wasn’t a case anymore.

The elevator opened with a ding. Two children and a woman. The children tensed up and the woman drew a weapon, though quickly drew blood with a cough.

“Are you with the Breakers?” yelped a child.
“Wait, hold on know. I don’t know what that is.”
“Bad people, they want to hurt her. They want to hurt everyone,” trembled the other.

The gritty woman seeped blood as she rose to her knees. With a leap, she slammed one into my stomach, knocking me into a nearby desk. Patient files fluttered like a storm of butterflies, wings like deceptively vibrant waiting rooms, proboscides sucking up nectar. The file of H. Missend fell on my face.

Tephenon had come to my rescue, applying a daring chomp to my attacker.

“Ow ow ow! What the hell?”

 “You hit my friend, you face the wrath of Tephenon the Vegetarian!”

One of the kids simply picked him up by the goggles. The other assisted the woman.

“Unhand me, villain…!!”

“Look, sib, this bat is wearing goggles. How cute!”
“Sib, I don’t think they’re a Breaker…”
“I can see that now.” The woman wiped her mouth but didn’t bother washing the remaining red streak.

“Sorry about that. Your coat’s green, so I figured… can’t be too careful around here.” Her bloody palm opened at me, calloused and burst.
“Wish you hadn’t done that, but honestly, I’ve had worse.” I took her hand and she effortlessly pulled me up – I had to massage her grip from my hand.

“I’m Alright.”
“Really? Because I hit you super hard.”
“Yeah, no, I mean, that’s my name. Alright.”
“Oh! That’s funny. I’m Helderheid.”

We sat down surrounded by glass and paper and started talking: getting slugged in the face does a lot to break the ice. The kids sat on her lap, humming and enjoying the touch of her fingers on their head, careful not to dislodge the almond tree blossom petals in their hair.

“I didn’t catch the names of these two.”
“They don’t have any, as far as I know.”
“Oh. They aren’t yours?”
“No. They’d lost their mother to the riots, found them locked in their apartment. But we’ve been having one big adventure, right?”
“Yeah!” the twins chirped, immediately falling back asleep.

The riots had happened only three days ago, but the way they were talked about was strange. Like it had been longer than that, ages ago, the memory no longer embedded in the skin worn by the present. The losses had been honoured, ashes scattered, the new wind left them behind. In the recollection of the past, there was only activity: a movement to the future.

“So, Alright, what about you? What are you doing here? You still searchin’?”
“No, I’m travelling. I’m theirs, I think.” I gestured at the frog and the bat, who were discussing if blood-drinking was vegetarian.

Helderheid quirked her ringed eyebrow, the creases around her eyes and the strength of her jaw tightened in disbelief like a parent at a child’s obvious lie.

“Right. And you haven’t run into trouble with the Breakers?”
“One of the kids mentioned that – who are they?”
“History repeating itself,” Helderheid smirked ruefully. I tilted my head.

“This thing that’s happening, the, what to even call it? The Swelling? It, apparently, didn’t happen anywhere except this city. Families reunited, farmers and workers marched unbound, arms linked like a chain, prisoners were freed, attended, and assisted, bankers and the broke kissed on top of skyscrapers, upending boxes of credit bills and debts… well, when that happens, governments freak. We’ve been called a massacre, an uprising, a revolution. Whatever reason they’re using now, the response seems to always involve the military.”

It was simultaneously cruel and disheartening to hear this. That this return to the elementary was met with lethal force. Armies marched on people who took the brave leap from the mired, the convoluted, the exploitative, to the local, the solidary, the intimate. The Paris Commune, its ideas like cannons aimed at the enemies of a common brood, had been broken for its prismatic dream. To dream, not the baseless, hopeful escapism, but the utopic, crystallised vision which will be built step for step, never fails to attract the hammers.

“Are we… in danger?”

All she responded with was a sad glance at the children curled up on her lap.

“I hope not.”
“Why are you here, anyway?”
“You first.”
“I’d hoped to find this place burned to the ground. This is the best next thing.”
“Then we’re on the same page. I came here to destroy some, ah, evidence. Just making sure, in case things return to nor…I mean, regress back.”

I handed her the file.

“H. Missend?”

Without a word, blood in hand, she crumpled it all. What had been compiled, no longer needed to exist. The ending of the hive. Even if things didn’t revert back, the act was one of power and of symbolism. I couldn’t have seen why it was necessary before, but now that it happened, I was convinced it was.

I searched for my file, this infestation, and tore it apart with a smile.

For three days, there had been pandemonium in the streets, which closely resembles crowds and celebrations and my hometown of Tilburg celebrating carnival for two weeks, a time during which it is known as ‘Kruikenstad’ – city of jars. As people’s bladders received no reprieve from beer, they pissed in the clay jars they had managed to prepare before the bacchanal. The morning after, call it symbiosis, the hangovered masses marched the amphorae filled with the ammonium of the people to the woolworkers in the countryside, whose tunics and coats, indeed made from seepage, clothed the same people for the next parade. Drunkenness is no stranger to what happens in the streets, but chaos, that unprincipled truth, has no comparable aim, and instead, people are inebriated with instincts for survival, the deadliest kind.

The city was taken by storm and there were no documentaries, no frightening news reports, no smug experts on TV deigning to tell us how it really is. These distracting images were left well alone, because, so simply, people had had enough of being alone. Houses emptied and the masses gathered in the streets, though it lacked the customary celebrations and sporadic kissing you’d expect with these great emotional swellings. Squares filled with asphyxiating desperation. People pressed shoulder-to-shoulder, shoulder-to-face, face-to-wherever as eyes scanned face to face, hoping to spot the correct one. Death lurks in these masses.

Models of risks calculation accumulated valuable data as the casualties piled up. So factual and dispassionate, these results without probable cause, no one deserves them. The reports say 2,493, all crushed and suffocated. So many looking for their third could be found at their own funerals, a heartbreak as simple as a bird set free, the cruellest irony is to lose oneself in the search for another.

The end had been broadcast as numbers on a screen. No images were released, odd for a disaster, those sensational sights, ensuring there was no evidence of what the Breakers did.

I told Tephenon and Arevaló about this street. It’s easy to like: the row houses aligning the road as if watching a parade, the informally unnecessary traffic regulations, the u-shaped shopping street with the cheaper and the expensive grocery stores visited by the miserly rich and the self-caring poor respectively, the family of hairdressers, the Islamic butchers side-by-side, the old crones drinking tall beers at their pub way before noon, the winks of security guards as they let people pass, though not with impunity, understanding why and in no hurry to discipline. I’d feared coming back, that was my constant  worry after the flicker, but worry is the mirror image of guilt. Too strong before, too strong after.

There was a familiar woman behind the pub window, following the groups of nomads and pilgrims passing by. Her blue eyes jumped from person to person until they fell on me. Her expression lustered, like bubbles sparkling in a champagne glass. She leapt at me and tackled me to the ground. Her old smile, hovering above mine, was a flower wreath.

It was my friend, Roem.

“Arevaló!” Tephenon whispered in my hood. “Our friend is under attack once again! Get ready for battle, hiyahh!!”
“Please calm down, dear. They’re alright.”
“Yes, I know, but they’re also under attack!”
“No, amasius, I believe this is a reunion. We can remain inside this hood.”
“Oh! Okay. I still have much to learn…”

“Alright! Thank you for coming here. And who’s this?” Roem waved at the twins hiding behind my legs, clutching my jacket.
“I’m Helderheid. Go on, you two.” She urged the twins to say hi, but they were stubbornly shy.
“She’s who brought me here. Hey, I had no idea you ran a pub now.”
“Well, that’s entirely by accident.” She invited us inside, wiped Helderheid’s face while she was at it.

She spoke beautifully, spoke Oromo, spoke of embers and governments and the smell of victory. There was no battle, only crumbling walls. State and market had injected themselves directly into the lives of anyone living in homes, in forests, in dirt. Every creature, human or animal, was turned into a subject, a sousject. Movement, safety, opportunity, stability, vitality, surfaces on the sapphire of life, all became controlled or outsourced and subsequently hollowed out until only the jewel’s faint sheen remained. Distances decreased and the room for alternatives shrunk. Suddenly, there was no more Us, only a You and a Them. Still, no fortress is forever. Foundations are guarded, lest a gust tears it down.

“And it all came tumbling down!” Roem exclaimed. How the concrete of civilisation collapsed in on itself. The indestructible and the everlasting – during times of crisis called irreplaceable and crucial to preserve – had dissolved in the span of a few days. She looked appreciative, her dark hands gestured boldly, as if they finally grasped the situation they were in. “Oh my goodness, no more of that!” she hummed, worriless, about rent and debt and dominion. Or rather, the complete and new lack thereof. Two women came and sat next to her, and together they formed an even bigger wreath.

“After everything settled down, the three of us woke up in bed like it just was an easy Sunday morning. We kissed, shared breakfast, and asked, ‘now what?’ And we decided we would set up a little pitstop for people still searching. We have mattresses and food – mostly canned goods and powdered coffee, but we don’t charge for it. We just want to help people on their way.” She took the hands of her companions. “You’re on your way, too, Alright?”

“Something like that,” I guessed. I didn’t tell her about the frog and the bat gossiping about the awful and malicious nature of wasps in the hood of my coat. I got lost in the two riddles I was faced with: why did I not require a third? And why do I have these two who need me? Everyone in this city erupted with love, so where was mine? Why was I taken but not given? Was I shunned? Avoided? Surrounded? Am I just that broken? A lone hilltop onto myself, I rolled down, caught in a slipstream. A battered brain sheepishly claiming it’s nobody’s fault but your own; delusion comes easier than self-examination. (A junkyard might collect trash, but let’s not forget this is delivered.)

I believed I wasn’t deserving of love for a second. Then, in rapid succession, Tephenon hugged the back of my neck, and Arevaló sang a beautiful song to me, and Roem poured me a cup of coffee, empirically proving otherwise.

“Coffee is the drink to keep us going. We have a lot ahead of us. And ‘Us’ is strong enough.”

Helderheid covered the twins’ eyes as the trio started making out, forming an impressive triangle with their faces.

“I hate to interrupt, but, have you had trouble with Breakers?”

Roem clicked her tongue before departing her mouth. “We have. We had the option to come along silently, so instead we shut him up. He’s in the cellar, tied up.”
“Can I go talk to him?” Helderheid didn’t seem nearly as surprised as I was.
“Be my guest.”

Helderheid stormed off, her back shaped strong and wide with burden. I followed suit.

“Oh, and Alright? Keep your fist and your wrist in a straight line. Hurts less that way.”

I thanked Roem, reminding her I was a pacifist.

We arrived at a man tied up with professionality. His green coat was identical to mine, save for the insignia stitched to the pocket. A black lozenge showing a wall separating two red hands reaching for each other. Somewhere along the way, the difference between police and military had disappeared – the two halves became a whole. Order became an inward occupation. The military police was the only thing the government bothered to spend money on, letting fare all else. And wouldn’t you believe it, the more it expanded its scope, the more criminals there seemed to be. Human rights had no more arbiters – did they ever? – and appeals to civil rights were ignored by the state that legitimised them. Suddenly, there were a lot more enemies of the state.

The man before us was the enemy. He had helped dam the waters of humanity and it had burst.

Helderheid spared no second asking trivial questions such as “Can’t you see what you’ve done?” or “Why are you doing this?” Instead she asked “When are they arriving?” The soldier couldn’t even finish before a kick to the jaw dislodged the petty defiance from his mind. “Two days,” was the man’s groan, and she immediately left the room. I was left with him; he stared at my shoes.

“You know this cannot continue.”
“Shut up. Us is strong enough.”

It wasn’t a lie and it wasn’t bravado. It was a simple truth about how things would unfold.

Helderheid had spread the fire, the warmth and the destruction, “They’re coming for us, that’s sure as shit, but we don’t have to wait for them. We don’t have to put up a fight. We’ll travel. We’ll make it impossible to deal with us. It won’t be like the first days. There will be bodies in the streets but they will be dancing, not dying. We will be unbroken.”

Her speech was a prognostication. By the time the Breakers arrived, we were long gone. The stories soon got out, no vessel could contain something this big, and the news dedicated all airwaves to the ‘Unbroken’, the ‘Swelling’, the ‘Pilgrimage to People’. The interviews were heartful and memetic, the smug experts fell victim to their own arrogance, the people in their homes saw what they were missing, and it all provided an elegant solution: doing something about it. Loneliness could end. No longer subject to abandonment and retaliation, incarcerated in many aspects of life – the prison, the farms, the workplace, to the houses and the city squares where ructions between the careless and the hurt were mistaken for fragility –, the inauthentic duality of being exploited and feeling meaningful only when exploited was over. They took freedom to hand.

There were casualties, we can never forget and must continue to cherish those who died for the new blossom of the world, but we cannot romanticise them, glory or sacrifice aren’t prerequisites for liberation, only the military benefits from such affects. There were survivors, most importanly, who kept doing exactly that: surviving. The Breakers kept up the hunt but, because the world began to find their third, though the gaping and hurting centuries cannot so easily be stitched with charity, there would be the time for justice, and, its corollary, ease. After three months, autarky. After three months, some equality. After three months, a communion.

That night, the star flickered again. It was over.

We finished paving the town’s new roads. With great high trees that attracted many birds, communities forming in the branches, it seemed more and more harmony migrated to us with each passing day. Each brick we slotted in brought us closer to a sense of completion. The twins helped in the way only children can, copying the grown-ups while still doing their own, independent thing. They started arguing, emotional friction can be sudden and rash, and everyone stopped their work when they heard the sound of crying. It was like we remembered, shockingly, that such a thing existed. I ran over to them and let them cry as much as they wanted.

“Now, you two, tell me what’s wrong.”
“We were picking flowers for everyone…”
“…and then we remembered they were mom’s favourite…”
“…and then we thought about why we don’t have a third…”
“…and then we thought that maybe mom was our third…”
“…and… and…” The bawling and the shivered continued, scaring the owls but not the crows from the trees. They dropped the bundle of almond tree blossoms they had collected.

The trees in the distance rummaged, too, jostling bird and branch, the looming, heavy sounds drowned out by the nearby distress.

I’d lost the words of comfort: “there there”, “I’m here with you”, “it’s alright” although I hate saying that, or even the simple word ‘embrace’ and its transgression into invaluable meanings. The Unbroken, to use the PR term, inaccurately representing them as some special category, though their social reality was not a difference from but an excess of the deep instincts shared by everyone, weren’t characterised by the past. They remembered, learned, and carried on, never lionising or mourning. Not even the twins, since the time we met, had ever expressed loss at their mother.

But since the last flicker, there have been fights, ugly fights, emotional breakdowns and despair, opportunism and backstabbing. Even in the concrete utopia where only each other mattered, we had to invent measures to solve conflicts and re-educate, to tell thieves to endure the hunger of rationing, to prevent boredom from becoming frustration, becoming malice, becoming that familiar thing, power. We had hope and love, now we needed care and wakefulness. It was difficult to maintain – to start something is awful, to keep working on it an evil chore, to finish it is like a panic attack. But to keep it around after that, that’s what’s worth preserving, defending. From inside and out.

Tephenon whispered in my ear, “when the young in my colony were upset, we would wrap our wings around them until the beat of our hearts calmed them down.” He left Arevaló to her snoring nap and climbed up the top of my head. “Maybe you could do the same?”

I wanted to remind the bat that I don’t have wings, but he gave me an idea. Carefully I scooped out the sleeping damsel and joined her with her companion on my head. Then, I took off my coat and began cradling the children in it, the three of us forming a blanket of loving arms. The sniffling stopped, but wasn’t replaced by silence. I yelled at the people behind me to cut off the machinery, but, the streetmakers weren’t even on. The noise was made of tremors, of treads, of boots threatened to trample underfoot life and limb.

“If not you,                                                                        wrrrr, wrrrr
then what the hell                                                          kh-CHCK
is making all that noi—”                                               “’kay boys. Fire.”

The gunfire started.

The buzzing of a thousand wasps and their stingers firing past us, a merciless volley without the intent of stopping, with the intent of stopping, all neatly flying past us. We weren’t able to hear the bodies dropping, the screaming, the single execution shots somehow worse than the hellfire. I’d turned to stone, quivering and crumbling under the quaking of my skin, a statue of regret. Not of sadness as I saw comrades perish undeservingly. Not of anger as I tried to comprehend the noncommittal cruelty of soldiers, the violence of generations turned momentous.

Of regret, because I felt guilty that somehow, I was deemed worthy of sparing. My gaze turned hellward, the only place I could turn to, and two shoes entered my vision. I recognised them – I had received them more time than I could count.

They were his.

The isolation cells echoed the oubliettes of kingly France. Into the belly of some beast that hates you. These were mobile units, however, the invention of an innovation-minded start-up company. Psychological torture on the go, the must-have device for emergency alienation!! They stole the twins from my hands, now tied behind my back. Helderheid would never forgive me, the thought hurt. My bones be damned, I had never felt this acutely aware of myself. It used to be different – it used to be familiar. I thought I escaped abandonment, but it turns out, history is a cycle. And it is vicious.

I sighed, trying to force my conscience out.

As if I’d rung a little bell, two friends appeared. We hadn’t been talking a lot, ever or lately, but when we needed each other, we were there. It was unorthodox, but it was how support felt, in its most honest form.

“Uwahh… is it nighttime already? I must have been asleep for quite a while.”
“No, Arevaló, we’ve been captured by those nasty Breakers.”

She let out a fierce croak, the froggy equivalent of a resigned groan.

“Hey, you two. Since we’re stuck here… you never told me the story behind your outfits.”

“When we arrived at the lake, the one where I brought Arevaló, there were a lot of other animals there. Folks who used to be enemies, prey and predators, were making the most of it. Together, too! Bear and fish, cats and mice, pelicans and frogs,” he teased at his companion, who swiftly retorted with a huff, “bats and snakes.” Tephenon shivered.

“In any case… we were all part of a duo! And even more, we were part of the environment. We finally escaped from human actions, no offence, and we decided to wear stuff they’d tossed around. I saw a wolf wear a scarf once, he was very cool!”
“Indeed. Members of our community wear pieces of trash as a sign of defiance. This cape, for me, is proof that I am strong.”
“I like these goggles because I want to fly like an aeroplane!”

It was then when I realised why these two were with me. Whether or not I am their third, it was that sense of community that led them to me. It could have been the star, it could have been the exhausting whimsy of the world, it could have been less than that. There is a magic to our dynamic, without scepticism or contest, we’re strange bedfellows that are perfect for each other in ways that we had known had been missing.

“Arevaló. When we first met, you thanked me. Why?”
“You were imprisoned, were you not?
“More or less.”
“Your life was not under your control, correct?”
“You would have rather died.”
“That’s why I thanked you. For still being strong enough to live.”

I cried, I’d forgotten how to for years. My emotions were stuffed so deep inside, compacted in the littlest corner where no light ever shone, a plant abandoned, safe enough to govern, so it could never wither, but not even I could reach it anymore. I’d lost myself without ever searching. I cried so hard, I didn’t even hear the chute open. Tephenon and Arevaló hid behind my hands. I heard a voice; it turned my stomach inside out.

“That jacket looks good on you.”

We shared the same jacket and the same eyes, two reasons I avoided mirrors like the plague. He saw a spitting image of himself, he’d tried to make that of me, anyway, but I had no insignia and he did. The Breaker’s badge stitched to his jacket was the condensation of history, beading like musky sweat to his skin. He commanded the Breakers as much as the organisation commanded him. A dirty soul, there could not be enough damage done that he would not deserve. He knelt down, dared to make eye-contact with me. I saw my eyes and they were furious.

“So, you go by Alright now? Funny. Hey, you know how we could find you?”
“You’re going to tell me right now.”
“It was easy, really. Not because your little commie clique doesn’t try to hide their mission of love or whatever. It seems like fate just really wants us to stick together, you and I.” His mouth uncovered the teeth of a shark tasting blood. He clamped to power and charged it over others, he always has.

“You’re my third.”

I batted no eye, felt nothing.

“What a coincidence. You’re mine.”

At that moment, the zip ties came undone, courtesy of Arevaló using the copper string of her cape as a makeshift saw. Tephenon took to the air like a baron, blinding his face and never letting go.

Another cosmic opportunity presented itself to me, so simply and clearly, so I jumped up at him. I bashed my knee into his stomach, courtesy of Helderheid. He toppled over, how did he ever overpower me, and I began bashing his face in, courtesy of Roem. The shark was toothless soon enough, his eyes were awash with fear, his arms dolled against my fists. I was the baker and he was dough. I screamed and laughed so much – it was euphoria, it was justice – I didn’t even hear the chute open again. Two sets of arms wrapped around my arm, the last slam into his mushed face wouldn’t budge. I looked up, ready to fight my way out.

It was the twins.

“That’s enough!”
“It’s over!”
“You did it!”
“You did it!”

Through the open chute, letting in a blinding kind of light, stepped a tall woman holding a jacket. I took her hand and she effortlessly pulled me up; I had to massage the grip (and the punching) from my wrist.

“Hey, you alright?”
“Are you, though?”
“Yeah. Thanks, Helderheid. Is everyone else okay?”
“It’s not pretty, but we can rebuild it. We can always do better. ‘Us’ is strong enough.”

I put on the jacket – a different shade of green, and, kind of importantly, not as stained with bloodspecks. Tephenon and Arevaló climbed into the hood and gave my ears a ticklish kiss.

The twins placed a petal of almond tree blossom in my hair.

It looked nice. It suited me. It was the flower that signalled hope. That proved history can continue on a different course. That emerged victorious.

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