The day the yellow helicopters come starts out ordinary.
Well, ordinary as can be for Night Vale, in any case. Carlos is awakened by Cecil's phone letting out the ear-splitting screeches that mean an intern is trying to get in touch about an emergency. Cecil snores on - Carlos wonders just how many of his mornings dawn with that awful noise, how long it must have taken him to get used to it - and Carlos grabs the phone, turning it over and over, wincing at the sound and looking for an off command.
Cecil's hand appears from under a mound of pillows and hits a button to silence it, then retreats, holding the phone. Carlos hears a sigh emanate from the pile as Cecil scrolls through the texts.
“Howling portal appeared overnight in the car lot at the Ralph's. Feelings delivery service had another leak, it's spilling a mixture of soul-crushing ennui and thirst for bloody revenge all around the corner of 2nd and Main. Oh - and the break room coffee machine's just dispensing blue Gatorade again. No wonder they said it was urgent…"
Cecil stretches his hand out again to throw the phone towards the clothes piled at the foot of the bed: it misses, rattles against the floorboards and lets out a disapproving chittering sound. "Sorry", Cecil calls out to it, and then the pile of blankets is shifting aside and his tousled, sleep-sticky face is blinking out at Carlos. "Good morning, beautiful Carlos", he says, fighting off a face-splitting yawn and cuddling up close. "Lovely - er, mmm, you're warm", and he drops off again.
Carlos wonders how urgent it is, and how many assistants he'll need to investigate the new portal at the Ralph’s. Maybe this time it’ll spit out pterodactyls. Or something else cool. (He'll send Lena over to look at the spillage: she'd like that.) Truth be told, he'd love to stay here all morning, wrapped up warm and soft with Cecil, but his curiosity's now piqued: there's work to do. There are all kinds of bizarre, incomprehensible new phenomena to investigate, so he shifts a little and pokes Cecil gently. "Shouldn't you - you know - go and get that?"
"S'fine", Cecil mumbles, "jusaminufff." He rearranges himself in Carlos' armpit, and stretches a little. "The interns are always extra keen when they're new, of course, they don't want to miss anything. Five more minutes. Then I'll ring them, let them know the machine just needs a small blood sacrifice first thing in the morning, same as the doors - that should keep them happy."
Carlos has wondered, before, whether it's useful for Cecil to be quite so, well, honest. On air, he means. It's just that - his tone sometimes, it seems to be almost encouraging people to go and poke at the latest danger. He remembers, from a few months back, that several more people had been lost to the Whispering Forest just after Cecil had broadcast detailed information about it, complete with directions towards the place. Now, he can't help but think that Cecil talking about the feelings spillage, warning people off it, might lead to more people going to have a look and then embarking on revenge-oriented rampages around town. He makes a mental note to text the team and warn them to wear extra padding today, just in case.
He mentions this to Cecil while they shuffle around each other in the tiny bathroom, as he’s holding the cloth over the mirror aside with one hand and shaving with the other. As always, Cecil's kind, and patient, but Carlos still ends up feeling as though he's missed something rather obvious, something that the locals would naturally know. Of course Cecil has to report the news, he explains: people need to be warned, and they can make their own decisions as to whether to stay away once they're fully informed. Carlos would rather just cordon off the whole area and direct people around it, but he can appreciate Cecil's need to be honest. He guesses it’s not too different from needing to tell the whole story when writing up science reports.
They cook breakfast together, and Carlos notices how easy it's become, navigating around each other in the tiny kitchen and the crowded bathroom. He's tickling a cupboard door to retrieve two bowls when Cecil makes a surprised sound at another text: "Looks like the Pine Cliff Lizard Monitors are coming back in this season. I'd heard they'd pulled out at least till next year - did you know all their defenders contracted throat spiders? The Coach'll want to know, I think he had plans for the boys assuming they'd just be up against…" he tails off, already typing.
"Do you know anything about Pine Cliff? Just, by the way - I mean, I haven't heard it talked about much in town, and it wasn't on any of the maps…"
"Not much", Cecil shrugs. "Little place, bit further away and towards the left of- " - his voice drops to a growl - " -Desert Bluffs. Far as I know, they're just like us: you know, ordinary and reasonable. Not like those awful people in- "- and now the exact same register, as though he's already warming up for the show later - " -Desert Bluffs. Ugh. Anyway!" - he's bright and cheery again in an instant - “-did you have plans at all today?"
"Some", Carlos says, thoughtful. "The new portal: someone should try and cordon that off, till we know whether it’s dangerous. And the feelings delivery service, too, I thought I'd send Lena over there to have a look, it'll be relevant to Rin's thesis plans. Oh, no, hang on - I just realised: I should stay in and try to get more funding applications written up - the team wanted to check out Radon Canyon again, and there's loads more specialist equipment we'd need for it, much more than they sent us out with…"
"Mmhm." Cecil is listening, chin resting on his hands, apparently rapt. "And… any plans this evening?" He's hopeful, and a little flirtatious, and Carlos' heart sinks to say, "sorry, love, I don't think I can. I don't know how long things will take today, or how much the rest of the team will need. Sorry."
"Of course - I know it's important. You're very welcome to come over tomorrow as well, naturally - "
"Can I let you know? I'll text later, once I've more of an idea of - well."
Carlos walks to work, skirting around the neighbours' bushes just before they can start to growl and snap at his ankles, and neatly stepping out of the way of a glowing blue spore fired at him from a nearby tree. (The tree makes what he could swear is a "dammit!" gesture with two branches, and readies another projectile, but he's already out of range.) It's routine, now, but he's aware he's trying not to look too closely at the way his initial panic has been replaced, slowly and inexorably, with practical, detached calmness: not unlike what he sees in a lot of the locals. Cecil, especially.
He knows Cecil is angling for more time together, and goodness knows, Cecil's apartment is brighter and cosier than the soulless beige room he's been using behind the lab - and it contains Cecil, who is wonderful, of course - but it's the longer-term implications that have him stop in his tracks. Isn't Night Vale the most terrifying and dangerous place in the US, as well as being the most scientifically interesting? The residents have always seemed to take it in their stride, and these days, he's ridiculously grateful to his team for providing a much-needed reality check as to what's normal. Maybe he can take Cecil back to Boston, if the funding isn't renewed - but no, he'd never be willing to leave the town, this community is everything to him. Could Carlos really imagine watching his back every day for -
Deep in thought, Carlos almost runs in to Lena, who is already loading up the station wagon with boxes of equipment. She's a tall woman around his age, and she'd spearheaded getting the project out here, having worked in paranormal studies for years. Regular visits to her partner back at home have kept Lena the most calm and grounded of the team, and Carlos trusts her absolutely. Today, she's wearing a bulletproof vest under a flak jacket, and grinning.
Her student, Rin, is holding more boxes just behind her: she's bubbly and excitable, even this early in the morning. Carlos suspects that the giddy joy of scoring work in the field for her first post-grad assignment, rather than in a lab, hasn't yet worn off for her: Lena had mentioned that Rin said she’d spent a childhood fascinated by ghost stories and all things horror, and she adores the work. In fact, the giant worms at the community college had recently sent the scientists a letter inviting them to contribute some course material: it’s a big time commitment, but Carlos wonders if Rin might be the best suited for the job. They’d love her presenting style. He makes a note to talk with her about it later.
"Hey!”, Lena says, passing Carlos a crate to hold as she wrestles with the side door. “Rin and I were just thinking we'd check out that feelings leakage before the whole town heard about it and went to look, thought we'd set up a before-and-after kinda thing? You want to come with?"
Carlos smiles at their enthusiasm, and promises to add something about remote psychological manipulation to the letters back to Boston. He texts Cecil from his desk: maybe at least ask people to be careful? I've got colleagues checking it out now, I'd like them back in one piece!
That's when he hears the rattle of rapidly approaching helicopters.