WHEN WE LAST SAW OUR HEROES:
Hundreds of people from across Night Vale gathered to rebel against new Strexcorp rent hikes. TAMIKA FLYNN spoke out in protest; CARLOS and the SCIENTISTS were among the crowd; CECIL PALMER was not on the scene, but his reporting was decidedly sympathetic; LUCY AND HANNAH GUTIERREZ died in resistance, taking out a bunch of Strexcorp employees as they went.
Then the Strex-owned SHERIFF'S SECRET POLICE descended with tear gas and handcuffs, and everything devolved into chaos as the curtain fell....
Act II opens with a hurt and hungry Carlos being confronted in his prison cell, cuffed, hooded, and dragged away...to be dumped in the back of Cecil's car. Cecil paid his bail.
It's their first time seeing each other after singing I'll Never Tell, and they can't go back to panicky avoidance, because Carlos is in bad shape and Cecil can't just abandon him like that.
They sing a version of Fun Home - Telephone Wire during the drive, with each of them taking turns with the chorus ("Say something, talk to him / Say something, anything / Doesn't matter what you say / Just make the fear in his eyes go away"). During the spoken parts, Cecil lets Carlos know that Tamika got away safely, and lots of concerned citizens are working together to make sure everyone who was taken into custody gets bailed out.
The good news is, for these two, the song isn't their last chance to talk. Once they're safely back at Cecil's place, and Carlos has had some food and some non-Strex-brand painkillers, they stumble into a real conversation about the problems they have with each other.
CARLOS: Of course I respect your intelligence! When have I been condescending?
CECIL: Remember that time you told me about the benefits of to-do lists? But you didn't explain fully explain how they worked, so I ended up using them wrong, and then you had to explain why?
CARLOS: It was a cultural difference. You didn't get it because you didn't grow up in the same place I did, so we take different things for granted. It's not because you weren't smart enough. I knew that.
CECIL [singsongy, talking-to-a-child tone]: "Ceeeeecil, is there a line through that item~? What about a check mark...?"
CARLOS: ...I was being fond!
CECIL: You may have been feeling fond, but you sounded condescending.
CARLOS: ...okay. I didn't mean to, but...I'll try to stop. I can't really hear when I'm doing it, so if I slip into it again, could you just let me know...?
And so on.
CECIL: You really think it's embarrassing when I yell at the moon?
CARLOS: I really do.
CECIL: Even though it has nothing to do with you? And nobody else in town is bothered by it? You and the moon aren't secretly friends, are you?
CARLOS: Of course not! It just makes me uncomfortable, okay? Do I have to justify it in terms that you'll accept before I'm allowed to feel it?
CECIL: ...No. Your feelings are still valid. Not redeemable for cash, but you can exchange them for credit at the Feelings Delivery Warehouse.
CARLOS: If this yelling means a lot to you, could you at least save it for when I'm not around?
CECIL: I'm, um, not actually that attached to it. Probably easiest to just get out of the habit entirely. Which..I can do.
They decide to put the "moving in together" plan on hold. Better to make sure they can handle this honesty-and-frank-communication thing, that they won't drive each other crazy with it, before they've combined their DVD collections and harmonized their bloodstone circles.
But they affirm that they don't want to break up, which leads into a duet version of Zanna, Don't - I Could Write Books. ("I could write books / 'Bout all the things you took from me / And then write twice as much / About how much you give back.") With half of the alternate lyrics focused on the things they do that make each other happy.
TAMIKA and the BOOK CLUB, energized by the show of support from around town, step up their game.
I really wanted to give these kids a song from the Sailor Moon musicals, because there's no better showcase for teenage girls singing power anthems about how much they're going to crush it in battle. Favorite option was Sera Myu - Solar Miracle Make Up! (Some English-translated lyrics: "Lightning, become a staircase / The sailor soldiers are taking to the sky / We'll make sea of space our stage / In the solar system, together we are invincible!")
...but I never wrote more than the title/refrain. ("Night Vale Middle/High School Book Club!")
You may recall that, at this point, LAUREN MALLARD has taken over Strexcorp security operations in Night Vale. Along with the StrexChorus, she recaps Tamika's rebellious exploits -- and vents all her personal frustration -- in a version of Cats - Macavity: The Mystery Cat (h/t ivoryandwines).
Tamika Flynn, Tamika Flynn, there's no one like Tamika Flynn
She's broken every corporate rule
She's reading all the books we ban
We'll catch her any day now, or so we claim on-air
But when we reach the scene of crime
Tamika Flynn's not there!
In the timeline of the show, we've reached e040 The Deft Bowman: the episode when MEGAN WALLABY gets a body transplant. With her new voice, the first thing she does is sing a version of Les Miserables - I Dreamed A Dream, remembering all the hopes she had for her friendship with COMPUTER, and how sad she was when they were lost.
(It's gonna be okay, I promise. By the end of the fic she makes friends with Fey and everything is wonderful.)
Let's get an update on CARLOS' TEAM OF SCIENTISTS.
The scientists are such a puzzle in canon. At first, I -- like a lot of the fandom -- assumed Carlos and some colleagues had all come to Night Vale together, and were working, maybe living, definitely having team bonding-and-shenanigans, as a group. But a close reading of canon finds no mention of where the others came from..and, since the pilot episode, Carlos is the only one who's studied anything that isn't the House that Doesn't Exist.
We got a few details (Carlos has five colleagues, including a Dave and a Rochelle) in e046, so it seemed like we were finally going to get more exposition...then in e047, they were captured by Strexcorp, and have been MIA ever since. Later, Carlos says tells Cecil there's only one person he truly cares about. Does that mean the other scientists are dead? Or does it mean Carlos never had any real bond with them in the first place?
Who even knows. I'm not sure the writers expect listeners to care, to be honest.
Well, for this AU, they're all Outsiders. They have team shenanigans. DAVE is a neurologist, ROCHELLE is a biologist, and one of the unnamed slots is filled by an OC geneticist named LI HUA.
I wrote her in this fic from the early chapters, for one reason and one reason only: to give her this song.
(Things will get bloody, so skip to the end of the section if you need to.)
As you may recall, Li Hua is a high-functioning sociopath. The real thing, not a person who's just emotionally closed-off. Which is frequently an advantage in Night Vale:
At this point, though, Carlos is understandably concerned that she's going to run off to join Strexcorp, where she'll have free rein to murder and dissect people without any penalties to her social standing.
Her ability to be casually ruthless had saved each of her teammates' lives at least once. She never needed time off to recover from the loss of a loved one; she wouldn't hesitate to shoot something that was trying to kill her, no matter how superficially adorable; she could skip into the goriest disaster zone to collect samples for testing. And even if she didn't care about people personally, she understood the value of having allies, so her teammates had learned to trust that she wouldn't seriously hurt any of them just for the hell of it.
To which Li Hua replies, "Do you think I'm stupid? They would never be convinced I wasn't a spy, and everybody there would be happy to murder and dissect me the second I stopped being useful enough. No, I'm going to throw my lot in with the Book Club. Same amount of fun, lower chance of being stabbed in my sleep."
Aaaaand then she loads up on a bunch of high-powered weapons and strolls to the nearest Strexcorp hangar, where she enjoys a blood-soaked massacre of every staffer she meets. Stepping over bodies, painting the walls red.
All to the tune of Frozen - Let It Go:
During the bridge of the song, she's entering the main hangar. She hacks off a guard's arm and uses the end to paint the Night Vale eye sigil on the door of a yellow helicopter. Gotta make sure Tamika knows this one's a friendly, and doesn't shoot it down.
The light blinks bright on the mountain tonight
And the streets down here are clean
A town under occupation
Not a rebel to be seen...
Don't let them in, don't let them see
Look as if you're emoting normally
Pretend to feel, don't let them know
Well, now they know...!
I don't care what they're going to say!
Let the War rage on
The blood never bothered me anyway!
It's funny how a war zone
Means everything can change
And the social mores that ruled me
Can't get to me at all!
It's time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me
My bullets flurry, dropping bodies to the ground
My soul is spattering in bloodstained fractals all around
And one thought echoes, deafens, like a gunshot blast
I'm never going back
The past is in the past!
On "I'll rise like the break of dawn" Li Hua is lifting off, and on the final "let the War rage on...!" she hits the button for the windshield wipers, casually clearing the mess she made of the windows. "The blood never bothered me anyway!"
The approach of e041 WALK means it's high time for some numbers from DANA CARDINAL, out in the Otherworld Desert.
When she climbs the mountain and finds the ruins on top, Dana launches into a version of Little Fish - Remember Me. It's one of those songs that would pretty much work with no modification at all. ("There I was on the highest mountain in all the universe / Standing right where an ancient people had disappeared or worse / Around me were the remnants of the lives they'd left behind / And all at once this feeling, no this knowledge filled my mind...")
Projecting herself into the NVCR studio, Dana picks up new details on Night Vale's troubles from CECIL. Maybe everyone in town is singing a song about walking here, I don't know.
Anyway, Dana reflects on how far she's come, literally and figuratively, to the tune of A Shoggoth On The Roof - Very Far From The Home I Love. ("Once, I was happily content to stay / Here in town, on dry ground / Far from the monsters who would come to prey / Prey on the home I love...")
She's already started making friends with the MASKED WARRIORS...but they're not the only ones in the desert! It's about time to rendezvous with the ANGELS, including THE ERIKA FORMERLY KNOWN AS VITHYA.
They re-enter the story with a version of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer - Angels Lost. ("There's a couple angels missing, that only you can save... / There's a couple angels lost down here, whose only hope is you.")
Good news: even with the rockiness of those early scenes, by now CECIL and CARLOS are doing pretty well in the relationship department.
...Hey, remember when Carlos used to have trouble juggling his work and his relationship, but was shown to be making an effort, and getting better at it? When his research was presented as something that could co-exist with his love life in a healthy way, not something that had to be completely destroyed before he would stop some really egregious mistreatment of his partner?
I wrote most of a song, and most of a the corresponding scene, with that Carlos in mind.
Cecil comes by the house for a quiet evening of boyfriending, finds Carlos deep in research, and is a little insecure. Cue the opening chords of Pippin - War Is A Science.
(...and that's all I wrote. You'll have to fill in your own branches of Cecilology.)
"I understand that your experiments and everything are important! And that you're very into your work. I'm very into it too! It's just...well, it would be nice if...."
Cecil trailed off, because a jaunty beat had started playing around them: like circus music, with xylophones and tambourines, drums and cymbals. Carlos thought he even heard the rhythm of invisible backup dancers clapping along.
"Is this yours or mine?" asked Cecil.
"I think it's mine," said Carlos. He was starting to recognize the tingling feeling that signaled incoming choreography.
"Mmhmm. And do you think it's going to be about...science? Or about...something else?"
"Cecil...." Carlos pulled Cecil toward the couch. "Probably science. But just because I'm focusing on science doesn't mean I can't also be focusing on you! Come in here, let me show you...."
His laptop was still on the coffee table, snoring lightly. The two of them sat on the cushions in front of it, where Carlos clasped Cecil's hands as the music changed tone.
"Love is a science! With rules to be applied," sang Carlos. "Which good boyfriends appreciate, and analyze and correlate, to optimize, on every date, what they provide...!"
Another burst of trombones and bells clamored to life around them as he tapped the keyboard, waking the laptop up. "See, Cecil, here's what I've been doing while I waited for you," he said, then broke into a chant as he pointed and gestured to different windows: "The molecules in fragrances, they always correspond to a chemical composed of atoms linked by certain bonds. So I took your favorite flowers, and went online, where I'm looking up the formulas that make them smell so fine. I'll synthesize them, down in the lab — and bypass the way the blooms themselves all bite and screech and stab!"
He turned back to Cecil, who was nodding in time with the catchy beat, and ran a gentle caress along Cecil's cheek.
"Oh, and, earlier this afternoon, I saw the Ralph's had fire on sale. I'll find some scented candles soon, and test them in the same detail...!"
Cecil beamed. Carlos took a moment to smile in return, then started clicking through folders. He knew there was a set of MRI cross-sections somewhere on this hard drive...ah-hah!
"Love is a science," he intoned. "That fact is very plain. Arousal can be quantified — you see it on these colored slides that tracked the signals after someone wired their brain!"
Cecil looked with a start from the images to Carlos's skull, like he thought it might give some hint about how many of those regions were active in Carlos's brain right now.
With a gentle gesture Carlos tipped Cecil's head down so they were face-to-face again. "Now listen to me closely, I'll endeavor to outline the subfields that I want to make specialties of mine...."
(I liked the "Carlos expresses his interest in Cecil in science ways" concept, dammit. Why couldn't it ever come up in canon? Even his Big Romantic Speech in Condos is only about general science -- it could have been addressed to any person he ever dated. There's nothing specific about Cecil's character traits, or interests, or what Carlos loves and admires about him, or anything.)
It isn't all warm fuzzy feelings at this stage of the story. We get regular Strexcorp anthems -- sometimes just from the town's Strexcorp imports, sometimes including the Night Vale locals who've been bought up.
I have a really long potential Strex playlist. Songs that are relentlessly cheerful, and could easily turn evil when sung through Strexcorp teeth, are surprisingly plentiful
...As are songs that were intended to be cheerful-evil in the first place.
- Spring Awakening - Don't Do Sadness (h/t thundercaya): "I don't do sadness / Not even a little bit / Just don't need it in my life / Don't want any part of it"
- Annie - You're Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile: "It's what you wear from ear to ear / And not from head to toe / That matters... / Though you may wear your best / You're never fully dressed / Without a smile!"
- Monty Python's Life of Brian - Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life: "If life seems jolly rotten / There's something you've forgotten / And that's to laugh and smile and dance and sing... / Forget about your sin / Give the audience a grin / Enjoy it, it's your last chance anyhow / So, always look on the bright side of death / Just before you draw your terminal breath."
- Assassins - Everybody's Got The Right (h/t hungarianlanterns): "Everybody's got the right to be happy! / Don't be mad, life's not as bad as it seems... / Everybody's got the right to some sunshine / Not the sun, but maybe one of its beams"
- Chess - The Merchandisers (h/t chess_ka): "We've locked the doors / We've blocked the aisles / We've a franchise worth exploiting / And we will, yes we will! / When it comes to merchandising / We could kill!"
- Catch Me If You Can - Don't Break The Rules: "They see themselves as Robin Hood stealing from the rich / Not paying back the things they take, well, payback is a bitch"
- The Lion King - Chow Down (h/t gwen-chan): "It's so incredible / That you're so rude / When you're so edible / When you are food!"
We come to e042 Numbers. This is the first episode where THE MAN IN THE TAN JACKET comes into the studio when CECIL is doing a broadcast.
It's already been revealed that, for purposes of this AU, TJ is Cecil's missing brother. He recaps this for Cecil, then goes on to explain (both to Cecil and the listeners) why he's so unmemorable, and some things he wants the audience to try that might help reverse the process.
...and here's where I confess that I never actually decided why TJ is unmemorable in this universe. (His backstory from a certain other AU obviously doesn't apply.)
But it would have to have be the side effect of some kind of life-sustaining magic, so the brothers can do a bittersweet duet to Adventure Time - Remember You (h/t CompletelyDifferent):
Tears. Tears everywhere.
This magic keeps me alive, but it makes you forget me
And I need to save you, but who's going to save me?
Please forgive me for whatever I do
When I don't remember you
...Within a few minutes CECIL has forgotten the whole thing, and goes back to reporting on the mysterious changes in WZZZ.
He tunes in just in time to hear the newly-named FEY breaking into a version of Hedwig and the Angry Inch - Random Number Generation. ("All our feelings and thoughts / Expressed in ones and in oughts / In endless spiraling chains / You can't decode or explain / Cause you are so analog.")
(I promise, Fey's programming would've been broken at some point. Possibly by Megan Wallaby. Like I said, they're gonna be BFFs and all will be well.)
Astral-projecting DANA has a meeting with a future version of DANA'S MOTHER and DANA'S OLDER BROTHER.
She'll tell Cecil about this later, but we get it in realtime, including a version of 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee - I Love You Song (h/t thatguywiththewhitespot):
And this is the last melancholy Dana scene we get, because the next song is the Dana version of Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat - Go Go Joseph.
God, we love the way you grew
Since you were born
How I wish I were
How I wish I were home
Dana, we couldn’t be prouder
Mama, Mama, Mama
How I wish I were home...
The parts get shuffled around -- present-day Dana isn't singing all the Joseph lines. Instead, Dana lays out her worries about not getting home, and FUTURE DANA reassures her.
Dana's luck was really out
Her spirits and her fortune low
Alone she sat, alone she thought
Of happy times she used to know
Hey, walker, don't be so upset!
Hey, Dana, you're not beaten yet
FUTURE PEOPLE CHORUS
Go go go Dana, you know what they say
Go go go Dana, you'll make it someday
Sha-la-la Dana, fight till you drop
We've heard the podcast -- you come out on top....
Cut back to the present in the desert otherworld. Dana worries about the mysterious and menacing light on the horizon. JOHN PETERS, YOU KNOW, THE FARMER -- who has joined the group by this point, and who learned about Smiling Gods in 4H -- explains what it means, and that it is beatable.
Finally, Dana, John, possibly MAUREEN, definitely THE ANGELS, and THE GIANT MASKED ARMY launch into the "big triumphant dance number" phase of the song.
Go go go Dana, you know what they say
Go go go Dana, you'll make it someday!
Sha-la-la Dana, you're doing fine
You in the Dog Park, ahead of your time
Before we get to the trauma of e043 Visitor, we need to have a Khoshekh song.
I don't know if the words are all in Khoshekh's (extremely self-satisfied) head, or if Cecil and/or others at NVCR are singing it "for" him. I do know that it's to the tune of Cats - Skimbleshanks, The Railway Cat.
I, Khoshekh, the Station Cat
The Cat of the Radio!
Whispers down the corridor, there at seven forty-four
Right when Night Vale's ready for its show
Saying, "Khoshekh, how is Khoshekh?
Can we give his bowl a spot-check?
We must feed him or we just can't go!"
All the interns and the sound crew
Would make sure that I had beef stew
And my litterbox was clear
Then the host would say, "Oh, Khoshekh!
Got to run off to a tape check
But then I'll come right back here."
So at seven fifty-two with the broadcast almost due
He'd be back and scratching right behind my ears
Till I purr that I approve, and that he's okay to move
Otherwise he might stay there for years...!
Then I'll hear the chords of the intro tune
And the signal goes "On Air!"
He'll be off at last to report the news, and on all the town affairs!
I, Khoshekh, the Station Cat
The Cat of the Radio!
You might say that by and large it was me who was in charge
Of the Night Vale broadcast day
From the marketing and sales to the little script details
I would supervise them all, in my way
In the bathroom I'll be floating, and it might look like I'm dozing
But be vigilant and don't let down your guard!
I'll establish my control, with a hiss, and maybe claws
And the poison spikes if you push me too hard
I can watch you without winking and I see what you are thinking
There are certain things I do not condone
Don't go messing with my kittens, learn the station rules unwritten
And this spot is mine, don't try to make me go
You can play no pranks with Khoshekh, thanks!
I'm a cat that cannot be ignored
So nothing goes wrong welcoming Night Vale
With Khoshekh standing guard!
It gets very pleasant when they hear traffic on the tens
And an ad for a nice local store
The election news is fair, time split one-to-one on air
Although Hiram thinks he should get that plus four
You can get an early peek
At the calendar each week!
All the details of the local hot events
And a funny science section he began from sheer affection
Though he never really got it to make sense
And some nights he'll get reflective, or he might not be objective
Or he'll let the weather run...a little long
But he'll never get too far gone, and that's something you can count on
For Khoshekh won't let anything go wrong
When the weather ends and the host signs off
And kills the "On Air" sign
He can leave secure; it will be all right
The station won't be bothered at night
He can leave all that to the Station Cat
The Cat of the Radio
I, Khoshekh, the Station Cat
The Cat of the Radio!...
And I'll give a wave of my long spined tail
Which says "See you soon, you know!
You'll meet without fail if you're in Night Vale
The Cat of the Radio!"
The events of Visitor happen. A STREXPET(TM) is found in CECIL's office, and ends up attacking; he flees to the bathroom; KHOSHEKH defends him, and is badly injured.
LAUREN reveals that the StrexPet was a "gift" from the corporation, and sings Cecil a darkly threatening version of Aladdin - Friend Like Me (h/t Gen). "You ain't never had a boss like me."
For purposes of this AU, CARLOS and the SCIENTISTS were never the most active rebels, but in Act I they did things like provide hideouts and first-aid supplies for the Book Club.
They had their big moment of showy defiance in Rent, and it was a disaster. Since then, they've been a lot more withdrawn, keeping to their own research and avoiding things that could be used against Strexcorp. (With the exception of Li Hua, who's still out on the front lines, having the bloody time of her life.)
While they're studying the House that Doesn't Exist, Carlos berates himself for being too scared to rebel more actively...too scared to do any more-controversial research...even too scared to go up to this house.
All those layers of feeling come together to the tune of Matilda - Pathetic (h/t chess_ka). ("Knock on the door, Carlos / There's nothing to fear / You're being pathetic! / It's just a door / You've seen one before.")
Before we get to e044 Cookies, we would have had a few characterization-building family-background songs for CECIL, STEVE, and JANICE. Along with a little more page time for CECIL'S SISTER (this AU began before her name was revealed in canon, and I haven't bothered to retcon, so she's still called Delphine here). Maybe some CARLOS thrown in.
Here's what's on my list:
Monty Python and the Holy Grail - Brave Sir Robin (h/t thatguywiththewhitespot): Cecil sings this in mockery/aggravation at Steve. "Couldn't bake a decent scone, no, not Steve Carlsberg!"
Commentary, The Musical - Steve's Song: A sweet and hopeful anthem for Steve, about how he's totally going to be accepted by the town-at-large any day now. ("My friends would never consciously / Exploit somebody`s weakness / They say my voice possesses a sweetness... / I knew it's not this lisp / It`s been my talents all along.")
Seussical - Alone In The Universe (h/t Regalli): Suggested as a Steve-and-Carlos song! Back when it seemed like they could be friends, bonding over their discomfort with certain kinds of everyday Night Vale weirdness. ("They all call me a lunatic / Okay, call me a lunatic / If I stand on my own, so be it... / And one day soon / I know there you'll be / One small voice in the universe / One true friend in the universe / Who believes in me....")
...and then we learned that canon!Steve had been working from the idea Carlos was part of the conspiracies he fights against, and canon!Carlos hadn't bonded with anyone. Sigh.
Rocky Horror Picture Show - Damn It, Janet: Look, at some point there would have been a sequence that called for a song with the refrain "Damn it, Janice!" And as soon as I thought of it, I would have been ready.
The Mayoral Election campaign is still going on in the background of all this!
...but I only have one song on the prospective playlist for HIRAM MCDANIELS and THE FACELESS OLD WOMAN. That would be Annie Get Your Gun - Anything You Can Do (h/t Gen). ("Anything you can do, I can do better / I can do anything better than you / No, you can't / Yes, I can / No, you can't / Yes, I can!")
The events of e044 Cookies happen. CECIL tries to re-sell his niece's Girl Scout cookies; Strexcorp buys them all.
LAUREN gets threatening again, this time to the tune of RENT - What You Own.
It backfires. By the end of the song, Cecil has resolved to get more engaged, not less. He makes a surreptitious call to TAMIKA, and the planning of Parade Day is set in motion....
Don't breathe too deep
Don't think all day
Dive into work
Smile till you're okay...
You're working at a Strexcorp job
Leave your sadness at the tone
When you're working at a Strexcorp job
At the turn of the millennium
You're what we own!
...which seems like a nice cliffhanger-y point at which to break this not!fic in two.
NEXT TIME: Open war!...Mass imprisonment. Revolutionary anthems for Tamika. Happy sunshiney songs for Kevin. Danger for everyone! Dana makes her triumphant return to town. Carlos contemplates leaving town. TJ contemplates how much he wants to be able to wear literally any color other than tan.
Readers, if you have any questions, ask them now. Especially if there's some minor character or low-key plot thread you're curious about, because I might not remember to cover them in the summarizing otherwise...and I really do want to pack as much closure as possible into the final not!chapter.