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            I’ve often wondered exactly where the drifting balloons you sometimes see in the sky come from, though never where they go. I was always given to understand that they eventually exploded from lack of external pressure to make them keep their shape.

            … The “Hippocampus Harald” (my poor brain’s official newspaper, formerly the "Hypothalamic Harald"), apparently has other ideas.



            Tonight, dear readers, we are going to look at a very serious issue. It is an issue plaguing our urban areas, yet very few people take it seriously. I am referring, of course, to balloon vagrancy.
            Balloons can be separated from their families in dozens of ways. Carelessly letting go of a string at a picnic. Carelessly letting go of a string in a carnival. Even carelessly letting go of a string after a birthday party. However it happens, the balloons, once released, are totally untrained in what to do. They have no eyes, so once they lose contact with their owner, they panic, usually going straight up. This is instinctive, from the days when primitive balloons made from animal skins would be released near the entrance of the cave, where they would hug the roof and strangle any person who wasn’t their owner with long strings woven from grass. Alas, what the modern world has lost in the dangers of stalactites, it has gained in the use of balloons for enormous outdoor events far from a handy ceiling. Thus, every day, thousands of balloons become lost, and drift for miles and miles.
            There was a time when these balloons would simply die in the wild, bereft of an owner. They have notoriously short life spans in any case. But the relatively high density of human cities has caused a change in this pattern. Balloons, which are primarily a helium based life form, are attracted by masses of non-oxygen gasses ( it is thought that at one time, the string on balloons was a proboscis for sucking in warm or lighter than air gasses. Unfortunately, the best places to find concentrations of these were in other balloons, leading to the species Balloonisaurus vaporivorum  cannibalizing itself out of existence before the evolution of man. The proboscis of surviving members atrophied until it became totally detachable, which is where we stand today.) . This leads masses of lost balloons to converge on cities, where the infrastructure is sadly incapable of dealing with their needs.
            Balloons are primarily used as a pet, so their best chance for survival is getting readopted. At the time of this writing, several shelters have been opened across the country. These facilities have lead to some emotional reunions between lost balloons and their owners, (typically one tenacious seven-year-old and two exasperated parents). Sadly, however, due to space constraints, very few of these are “no-pop” shelters. The average life expectancy of a sheltered balloon is three days, although those lucky enough to be in a no-pop shelter may live four times that long.
            But what of the many balloons that cannot get adopted or are too skittish to be sheltered? What of the horrible smiley face or clown balloons, that no one will approach because they give them nightmares? These balloons have very few job options in a growing city. Unable to get even the most basic necessities of life, these balloons become desperate, broken creatures. Some revert to a feral state, often killing dozens of people with latex allergies before being brought down. Others sink to horrible depths to survive, being preyed on by balloon pimps who contract them out to fetishists or freelance carnivals at high prices. Still others cut out the middleman, and prey on people who forgot to bring a French purse along when they hit the bar. Spartan, a preventatives company, maintains that the increase of lost balloons has had a noticeable effect on its sales, leading to the commissioning of a campaign to inform the public of the dangers of using wild balloons in an intimate encounter.
            Moreover, drug use is a more severe danger to balloons than it is to humans. Most balloons do not survive their first attempt to shoot up. Those that take up smoking often become addicted to the buoyancy caused by the warm fumes. However, within days, the heavier-than-air fumes completely incapacitate the balloon, and that is ignoring the obvious dangers of something that melts easily carrying around a lighter. As for drinking, anyone familiar with the somewhat barbaric use of water balloons during summer can predict the result.
            Yet apathy to the condition of lost balloons is at an all-time high. One reason that several people have mentioned is that they see no evidence of vagrant balloons. In fact, it is possible that your city has become infested with balloons without you noticing. The typical balloon in the city is dressed differently from one in the wild. Many adopt some kind of hat, in order to help them stay at ground level. Others may procure a coat, which they will use like a sail to help propel themselves. And of course, the ever present plethora of ill-fated addictions is mixed and matched over populations.
             If left unchecked, balloons stand a good chance of crowding out or replacing the human populations of some areas. It is unknown precisely how they reproduce, but females have been known to spawn enormous numbers of eggs tied together in a larger superstructure. Packing firms have been farming female balloons for these egg sacks, (better known as bubble-wrap), for years, but refuse to reveal their secrets. It is possible that the string is somehow involved, since it has been replaced by the small hole at the bottom of each balloon as an eating orifice. At least one scientist has put forth the bold theory that, since the string is removable, the gender of the balloon is optional, and that all balloons are a kind of situationally-based hermaphrodite.
            Whatever the actual biology of the balloon, however, it’s a distinct possibility that they will breed very quickly in cities, and the chances increase as the number of balloons does. Before we downplay the danger of this, remember that the Balloonicus domesticus is a relative of Balloonicus Giganticus, better known as the “hot air balloon”. History books recall that these genetic throwbacks to prehistoric balloons, bred during a similar boom in their population in the late 19th century, were once a real threat.
             Darwinian selection favors larger and larger balloons in competitions for mates, possibly because size is tied to the lifespan of such balloons. Eventually, physiological changes occurred that allowed balloons to become even larger. These giants, while lacking a proboscis entirely, reached enormous sizes and even formed a very primitive culture. Some of our readers may even have fathers or grandfathers who remember the balloon wars, where hot air balloon warlords drove fearsome herds of blimps across the sky, blotting out the sun. They would then set these “suicide blimps” systematically alight with their igniters, dropping them on human settlements like bombs. It is now known, for example, that the Hindenburg was a spy sent to demoralize the humans.
            Because of this historical precedent, we cannot sit idly by while the balloons slowly colonize our cities. There have been extreme solutions proposed, such as popping all balloons on sight, while more moderate activists simply recommend a better securing mechanism to prevent balloons from continuing to get lost. Others say that it is important to pop vagrant balloons currently in the cities, but people should be allowed to farm them with careful restrictions. Whatever we do, we must do it before we are overtaken by vagrant balloon populations. There is still time to act, however. Perhaps more positive occupations will even present themselves. As one spokesman for HELIUM (Home for Enabling Latex Individuals in Undertaking the Market) pointed out, airline service has deteriorated so much, with up to twenty people now being crammed in a single cabin on a small dragon, that people may be all too happy to walk into a craft supported by thousands of balloons. For the moment, though, average citizens are walking the streets with hatpins, and the crime world has welcomed the balloons into its deep and seedy bosom. Will the future be better? That is up to you.

A typical vagrant

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